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Wednesday, September 08, 2004  

Blogospherics: Starbucks' blogging barista fired fairly

Starbucks is a company some people find easy to hate. It is big. It serves an appetite one might consider a want, not a need. It caters to elitists -- people for whom Maxwell House and Folger's are not good enough. It is in a field, agriculture, where First World meets and sometimes exploits Third World. It has a mermaid on its logo. So, it is not surprising that a current employee fired for blogging tale, featuring a Starbucks' barista, has some people sneering, They were already inclined to, and this story bolsters their disdain. Jason Koulouros brought the sad saga of the unemployed Canadian blogger to my attention.

When does criticizing an employer become a firing offence?

That is the question a former Starbucks employee is asking after the ubiquitous coffee chain terminated him this week for profanity-laced remarks he made about a manager, and the company, on an Internet journal.

Matthew Brown, a 28-year-old Starbucks supervisor in Toronto, uses the Blog, or online journal, to keep in touch with friends and family. The diary contained his thoughts, a place where Mr. Brown vented his frustrations about everything from personal issues to work. When a manager refused to let him go home sick, Mr. Brown sounded off about his boss from home. He said he didn't use his real name, and gave the journal's address to a select group of people, so he doesn't know how the diary ended up in Starbucks' hands.

''I feel violated,'' he told Global News.

Predictably, some people commenting on Brown's dismissal have condemned Starbucks.

Firing an employee for muttering unflattering comments about his employer is ridiculous.

Would you stop buying Starbucks because one of their employees ranted in a blog? Yeah right. Are consumers supposed to believe that everyone who stands behind a fastfood chain's countertop waiting to serve us, loves their job? Give me a break.

Everyone has had bad days. Maybe the employee's supervisor was deserving of the comments. Who knows? Who cares.

The real concern here is personal freedom. Should corporate entities have the power to control their employees' thoughts and expression off the job?

If you answered yes, perhaps you should revisit G. Orwell's 1984. We're talking about brand loyality not the country's security issues.

And if you do trade freedom for "security" you will end up losing both.

I can't join the chorus. Since the situation occurred in Canada, American law does not apply. However, if an American employee engaged in the same conduct, he could be legally terminated. Most workers are employees at will and can be dismissed for almost any reason. Any reason includes a silly reason or no reason at all. Furthermore, Goliath does have a valid concern, despite David's lamentations. Anyone searching for 'blog' and 'Starbucks' could have happened upon Brown's blog. Persons doing so would have been treated to a diatribe against the company it did not have an opportunity to respond to. So, the harm Starbucks is attempting to protect itself from is real. Indeed, if multiple employees chose to criticize their employer publicly, the behavior would have a substantial effect. 'Good will' -- the way consumers feel about a business -- may be difficult to quantify, but it has a tangible impact on the success or failure of an enterprise. Diatribes such as Brown's can harm even a behemoth.

But, what of the "freedom" the naive correspondent above refers to? The truth is there is relatively little of it in workplaces the world over. People trade degrees of freedom, meaning the ability to do what they choose, in return for the necessities of life. Matthew Brown has little choice about how he will behave if he is to remain an employee of just about any company. If he feels violated by being fired for blatantly breaking an employer's rules, he is destined to have a difficult work life. He has the options of being self-employed, or, finding an employer who does not mind being ridiculed on the Internet. However, Starbucks was on solid ground when it decided to let him go.

Reasonably related

There are myths about the evil allegedly done by the humongous Starbucks Corp. An investigation of the allegations by Willamette Week found them to be mainly false.

11:35 PM