When her mother died in late 2003, Ellen Simonetti started a blog as a way to cope with the grief. Her blog quickly gained a following and before she knew it, Simonetti, a Delta Air Lines flight attendant, was writing about dating, traveling and the trials and tribulations of working for an airline. But when the "Queen of Sky," as she became known to fellow bloggers, posted suggestive pictures of herself in uniform aboard a Delta aircraft in October 2004, the company fired her, claiming she had violated a company rule that prohibits employees from being photographed in their uniforms.
Simonetti isn't the first employee to be fired over content posted on a personal blog. In January Google fired project manager Mark Jen for discussing his employer's finances on his blog. Starbucks sacked Matthew Brown in September 2004 for posting comments on his blog about the company, its management and customers. ESPN gave Gregg Easterbrook the chop in October 2003 for blogging about the ethnicity of the producers of the "Kill Bill" movies. (ESPN and Miramax, the company that produced the "Kill Bill" films, are both owned by Disney.) In fact, in the past year, firings over content employees post on their personal blogs have been steadily increasing.
For example, Simonetti posted pictures of herself leaning forward showing her cleavage and bra strap, lying across the top of a row of seats wearing a skirt that was slightly pulled up, and standing on a seat bending over into an overhead compartment--the focal point being her backside. These photos were by no means pornographic, but she was in uniform in all of them.
Barbara E. Hoey, an employment defense lawyer and partner at Kelley Drye & Warren in New York, says Simonetti's photos could jeopardize the airline's reputation as a professional organization.
Hoey warns that companies should be cautious when they are considering taking action against employees who, for example, use their blogs to organize a union or complain about discriminatory behavior. "There it gets trickier," she says. "There are circumstances where an employee may have gone over the line. But there are statutes that protect employees for organizing unions or complaining about harassment. It can become a very difficult situation."
Implementing a policy, however, may help eliminate those situations.
The key component to Groove Network's policy was striking a balance between the employees' desire and right to express themselves and the company's legitimate interests. "It's as permissive as it is reasonably prudent while also giving employees some guidance that will help them do the right thing," he says.
Had Simonetti received guidance from Delta, she may have known that posting her photos wouldn't fall into the category of "doing the right thing."