Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Power of Words: How My Blog Got Me Fired

I started writing this post several times, but I always stopped before finishing it. I still felt too paranoid about the events of the past month. But they say writing is cathartic, so I'll give it a go now!

Before carrying on, I want to add a disclaimer that this post is in no way meant to offend, slander or libel anyone. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

There. Now that we got that out of the way, I can continue.

About a year ago, I quit my full-time corporate job to focus on my writing. I wasn't ready to give up the working world completely, though. I decided to get a job that wouldn't involve too much mental energy, but would still let me interact with people and earn a little bit of money to help out with my household expenses (i.e., shopping and haircuts). I came across an advert for a part-time receptionist at a health spa. Everything about it seemed perfect, so I applied and got the job.

It was a good job, I have to say. The environment was relaxing, my coworkers and managers were nice and all was great -- except for one thing. The clients. Botox-starved, rail thin, neurotic... I can think of a thousand cliched adjectives to describe them. Throughout my time there, I was called stupid. I was told to shut up. I was even described as 'a clever girl' because I managed to spell a surname correctly. That surname was 'W-H-I-T-E.' I kid you not.

After nine months of this and countless hours telling tales to my friends and family, I decided to start blogging about my experiences, mainly as an outlet for my frustration at being treated like a peon by women who probably hadn't even finished their A Levels. The blog would be completely anonymous, a way for me to get my own back.

I never thought anyone connected with the spa would ever stumble across it, let alone connect it to me. But unfortunately, that's just what happened. One morning, my manager asked me to come to her office. I left the reception desk and trotted over, wondering what was up. As I entered, I saw my blog up on her computer screen. And her business partner was there as well, likely to provide back-up in case I flared up. (They had nothing to worry about - I'd never 'flared up' in my life.)

That's me done, I thought as my heart pounded in my chest. Quickly I scanned through in my mind everything I'd written. Thank God I'd never mentioned her or any of my co-workers. The blog was anonymous, so I guess I could have denied it. But as time went on, I had revealed a few too many details about myself and it was pretty obvious it was me.

After informing me that my blog was 'silly', she fired me. In retrospect, I don't blame her. Although I never thought of it that way, by bad-mouthing the clients, I was jeopardizing her business. She was a good manager, and I do feel bad at causing her upset. In my defense, however, I'd never mentioned the name of the spa; any of our clients' names; or anyone who worked there.

I'm not sure how I feel about what happened next. Before I left, they told me I had to delete my blog. In front of them, right that instant. I felt so bad about my manager's reaction to my blog, I didn't even protest. Under their gaze, my fingers were shaking so much it took several attempts to even log in to my account, prolonging the agony. Finally, I hit 'Delete' and my blog vanished from the blogosphere. I was gutted. I had what I thought were some pretty good pieces of writing on there. And now they were gone.

At home, after a few drinks and some reflection, I was angry. I'd never blogged at work or even thought about using their computers (they were antiquated, anyway). Did they even have the right to practically force me to delete my blog? What would -- could -- they have done if I said no? They'd already fired me, after all.

I could have put up a fight; resurrected the blog; but it's just not worth it for me. Freedom of speech and all that, sure, but I don't need any added complications or paranoia.

The chapter was fully closed when a week after my firing I got a letter from the spa. Nervously I opened it, skimming the contents with disbelief. I'd been banned from the premises, like a common criminal!

If ever I needed confirmation of the power of words, here it was.


Carolyn Jean said...

What a story. That is SO scary! I hate that they made you delete it. the blog sounds great.

In my real life, I'm a freelance advertising writer, but when you google my real name, (which is not Carolyn Jean Jackson) you can easily find my writing blog, which can get a BIT racy, and plus, it shows I read romance. The horror! It's a total nightmare. I suspect I've lost prospective clients over it.

Kimberly said...

I can't imagine how horrified you must have felt. Especially since there was no mention of names and I don't see how they'd have a legal leg to stand on. What a loss that must have been for you (the writing, not the job).

Abigail Rieley said...

Your were right to be angry - they had no right to pressure you to take down your blog. As long as you weren't being libellous you still have the right to freedom of speech.
Having said that it's definitely a salutary lesson on the power of words. I have been a journalist for ten years but a few years ago took a break of a couple of years to concentrate on writing fiction. To pay the rent I worked as a temp and can totally identify with your experiences at the spa. I found that since my cv contained a lot of journalistic jobs I would usually be handed a non disclosure agreement as soon as I turned up for work. At that stage I didn't blog but I can only imagine the trouble it would have caused if it did.
Now I'm back in journalism I have a self titled blog but I'm always conscious of what I write. I've had occasions in court (I mainly work as a court reporter) where members of the public gallery have taken issue with stuff I've written and there's the added pressure of knowing that the barristers will go through what I write with a fine toothed comb. It's so easy to write more emotionally in a blog, it's a much more immediate form of writing and since you're writing opinion you're always going to annoy someone. Losing your job is extreme but it's something we all have to be aware of in these times we live in. Twitter I think is even more of a risk...

Marsha said...

Thanks all for your comments. It has definitely been a lesson learned - I hope - to be careful about what I put out there.

It is SO easy to forget you're writing in a public forum.

But long live the blog! And Twitter, of course.

MikeH said...

wow, that's hard! And possibly illegal! I don't know what I'd do if someone tried to force me to delete my words; let's hope I don't have to find out.

Glad you bounced back, however, and glad I ran across your blog.

L.C. Gant said...

Wow... That sounds awful! Kudos to you for even having the courage to blog again after an experience like that. I probably would've been too traumatized.

I agree with the other comments as well. As long as you didn't mention names, you shouldn't have been fired, and they definitely had no right to force you to delete your blog.

Well, just think of it this way: once you're a bestselling author, they'll be sorry they ever messed with you! They say living well is the best revenge, and we're all cheering for you. Happy writing!

Publicist said...

Oh my goodness that makes me nervous! I'm trying to blog anonymously too but it's just so easy to slip in a detail here and there.
That story brings extra significance to your blog title.

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Hi here,
I came here via MikeH's blog...
What they did to you was unforgivable and I am sure that the forcing to delete your blog was illegal... if I were you I would look into that and get some legal advice as your blog is your property and not their's to delete...
O.k so you wrote about the Spa in your blog, but the only thing I see that they could have made you delete would have been the post where you had spoken bad about her business.... I really would get some legal advice as they are out of order and in my opinion they just bullied you into deleting your blog, they had no right to do that and are complete bullies using their positions as power against you!
I hope you end up getting some justice, I would definately go ahead and take some legal action against them for their despicable behaviour!

All the very best of luck to you!

Marsha said...

Thanks so much to everyone for their supportive words!

I could have taken it further, I guess, but to be honest it really wasn't worth it to me. I just wanted to focus on my writing, something I definitely couldn't do if I was engaged in any legal battles.

But I appreciate everyone's comments. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

You can still see the old posts.....

Elle said...

I'm glad to get to read the story in full after you tweeted about it the other week! I'm still in shock they made you delete it - they had absolutely no right to, but as I tweeted - remember the good that came out of it! (Love the inclusion of the "coincidental" dislcaimer by the way! ;p)

other lisa said...

I think they had the right to fire you, but they did not have the right to make you delete your blog.

Of course libel laws in England are a lot different than in the US (don't know about Canada), so I could be wrong.

But as Anon below writes, you should be able to recover the bulk of your posts, at least.

Scobberlotcher said...

Wow, this is something I often wondered about in general terms..that is, would someone's blogging find it's way back to the people a blogger might write about. Sounds like you landed on your feet very well. :)

Glad I found your blog, too. Just came over from Dysten & Goderich blog.


Karen H.

Lorrie said...

What a sad sequence of events. I highly question their authority to force you to delete the blog. I hate that they basically scared you into doing it. Oh well, chalk it up to a lesson learned, I guess!

Annie Evett said...

you keep writing girl.. and thanks for sharing this - these sorts of things will continue to crop up = and unless more peopel know about it - will get swept under the carpet and "Allowed" to happen....
thank you for your bravery in retelling your story.