Wednesday, January 12th, 2005
In the first case of its kind in the UK, blogger Joe Gordon from Edinburgh has been sacked by his employer Waterstone’s for a few mildly negative comments he made about his job on his satirical blog, The Woolamaloo Gazette. Joe was warned shortly before Christmas that he was going to be subject to a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct for bringing Waterstone’s into disrepute, but due to the festive season the hearing did not take place until 5th January. The hearing found that he had ‘violated the rules’ and he was summarily dismissed.
In dismissing Joe, though, Waterstone’s has prompted a massive backlash and huge amounts of very negative publicity - the story has been covered by BoingBoing, The Guardian, The Scotsman, The Bookseller, and The Register. Matthew Whitaker, who is a fellow blogger and a friend of Joe’s, is keeping a round up of all the press this story receives, and there have been a huge number of supportive comments on Joe’s own blog with many people writing to the company to complain or promising to boycott Waterstone’s completely.
As a bookseller with 11 years experience at Waterstone’s, and as someone responsible for organising many of the book signings that have taken place in the Edinburgh branch, Joe has the support not only of the blogosphere but also of authors such as Neil Gaiman, Charles Stross, and Richard Morgan.
All in all, this has turned into a major PR gaffe for the company - the blog-savvy media here have all been aware of the possibility of someone getting sacked for blogging because it’s happened several times in America, and they’ve been just gagging for a story like this to unfold here. I predict that it will be picked up now by the wider media, that Joe will get a whole lot of useful legal advice and support, and that Waterstone’s will end up with a large serving of egg on their face. Which will stick.
In the US, employment law exists but is weak - if you challenge your former employer’s decision to dismiss you, you are very likely to wind up on the heap marked ‘unemployable’ even if you win, but the situation in the UK is very different. Tribunals and unfair dismissal cases are taken more seriously, not just by the unions but by people in general. When someone gets fired unfairly, we tend to come down on the side of the employee. We like our underdogs.
My hopes for Joe, on a personal level, is that he gets the support and advice he requires to successfully challenge Waterstone’s and that he gets recompense for his dismissal which, on the face of it, looks very unfair. I also hope that he gets a far better job than the one that he was fired from. But looking at this more broadly, this case brings to light the fact that there has been in general a lack of thought about the issue of bloggers mentioning their work on their blogs and what that means. We need now to have some calm, sensible discussions about the repercussions of what has happened.
More to come when I’ve had a think about it.