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Can I avoid getting the sack for blogging about work?

If there is a clear blogging policy or you come to an agreement with your employer, then sticking to those rules should give you a clearer indication of where you stand. If not, there are some simple rules, which might help to minimise the risks of overstepping the mark.

The first rule is not to blog while at work, and obviously not on your employer's time. Just like other personal use of the internet, blog-related activity can be picked up by IT departments monitoring traffic over your organisation's networks (see our section on work internet usage for more details).

As blog entries carry the time and date, you can easily be caught out for posting an entry at a time when you should be working. And then there's the old-fashioned, low-tech risk of someone simply coming up behind you and catching you at it.

The second rule is to remember that absolutely anyone can read it (unless you've expressly chosen to keep your blog private and only visible to users you choose). This may well be one of the features that attracted you to blogging in the first place, but it's well worth keeping it in mind when writing about anything to do with work. Your employer, your colleagues, your family, your neighbours, the police, the Inland Revenue – anyone will be able to read your blog if they know how to search for it, and when they do, it's in your interests that they don't find something to object to.

The main concerns for employers about blogs are the risk of being legally liable for comments made by their staff, the release of confidential information, damage to their reputation, and problems with defamation and harassment.

The careful blogger with no clear agreement with an employer should, at minimum, make sure that anything connected with work, however tangential, is put in the vaguest possible terms to ensure that people, places and organisations are not identified. That means never naming your organisation or your colleagues and never publishing information, such as location details or images, that could allow your employer or your workmates to be identified. When writing about your experiences with co-workers, your employer or customers, keep them as general as possible to avoid identification. And even when you've taken all these precautions, observe one more commonsense rule: don't criticise your employer.

Some employers take a particularly hard line. A woman working for a British accountancy firm in Paris was controversially sacked for keeping a blog, even though it was about her personal life, was anonymous and avoided any identification of her employer. She did, however, put a picture of herself on the site, which her employer deemed was enough to make the firm identifiable and bring it into disrepute. It's an extreme case, but it highlights the fact that, unless there's a specific policy or agreement, you can never be sure what your employer will do.

The only way to avoid that kind of response is by making your blog completely anonymous, which can only safely be done by eliminating every possible identifying detail. But, even after taking those precautions, remember that computers are nearly always less secure than you think.