Bookseller Waterstone's has sacked a long-serving employee for writing a blog. Joe Gordon from Edinburgh, who worked for the company for 11 years, says he was dismissed because he "brought the company into disrepute".
His Woolamaloo Gazette was started in 1992 and is a satirical diary that, in Gordon's own words, enables him "to vent steam on stories which are bugging me or amusing me and hopefully make people think at the same time".
While most of the material he covers does not involve his work, he does occasionally mention his time at Waterstone's. As he puts it: "Like many folk I am not always happy at work...and coin terms such as 'Bastardstone's' and have a character called 'Evil Boss' (my equivalent to Dilbert's Pointy Haired Boss - in fact I compared head office directives to being in a Dilbert cartoon)."
While many people have already judged these this to be harmless, Waterstone's appears to believe they provide sufficient grounds for dismissal. Now Mr Gordon is angry at the way he's been treated and believes that, if the company was so offended, the matter could have been dealt with just a "quiet word".
Wrote Gordon: "I am not a serf; I am not an indentured servant. I am a free man with the right of freedom of expression. The company does not own me, body and soul - conforming to their rules at work is to be expected, but in your own time and space? How can anyone be expected to go through their personal life in fear of saying the wrong thing? No-one should.
"This has left me dreadfully upset. That a company I have given so many years to could treat me in such a brutal manner is despicable. That a book company thinks so little of the primacy of freedom of expression is alarming. I pointed out that Waterstone's has stated publicly several times in the past that as a bookseller they believe in the freedom of expression and not in censorship."
As well as winning the support of other bloggers Gordon has also won the backing of author Richard Morgan, who has added his voice to the chorus of complaints over the sacking. In a letter to the company he wrote: "While I don't wish to interfere in company business, I have to say I think this bears comparison with taking disciplinary action based on private conversation overheard in a pub, and raises some disturbing issues of freedom of speech. Waterstone's is, after all, a bookseller, whose stock in trade is the purveying of opinion, not all of it palatable to those concerned.
"You sell books which offer serious critique of the corporate environment and government, but do not expect to suffer punitive action from government or corporate quarters as a result. You sell books which criticise and satirise religious and political groups, but you do not expect to be firebombed by extremists as a result. Surely Joe has the right to let off steam in his free time without having to fear for his livelihood as a result.
"The action that has been taken so far bears more resemblance to the behaviour of an American fast food chain than a company who deal in intellectual freedoms and the concerns of a pluralist liberal society."
Despite repeated attempts to contact Waterstone's no one was available for comment at the time of writing. ®