Notebook > Business

Costly speech

Business | The popularity of blogs has caused the number of employees being fired for comments made about their employers rise

Issue: "Curt Schilling: Never hide," March 19, 2005

The first Amendment protects speech from government restriction, but it doesn't force companies to employ those who speak freely about them. Private employers in most states are free to fire their employees at will, as long as the firing is not discriminatory or in retaliation for whistle-blowing or union organizing.

With the popularity of web journals, or blogs, the number of employees being fired for comments made about their employers is on the rise.

Google, for example, fired Mark Jen for discussing life at the company. Flight attendant Ellen Simonetti lost her job after posting suggestive photographs of herself in a company uniform. Web designer Heather Armstrong was fired for comments regarding a company Christmas party. And Microsoft fired Michael Hanscom for violating security by describing a company building.

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According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 7 percent of online U.S. adults maintain blogs, while more than 27 percent read them. Those numbers are likely to increase in the next few years.

And with search engines capable of finding virtually anything on the web, employees are cautioned to check with their employer regarding the company's policy on blogging before posting to their personal website.

Bringing home the bacon

A law passed by Congress in October is leading a number of large American companies to shift billions of dollars in overseas profits back to the United States.

Under terms of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, companies can pay a reduced 5.25 percent tax on overseas earnings returned to the United States within the next year. The profits otherwise face tax rates as high as 35 percent.

Johnson & Johnson, IBM Corp., Dell, and Kelloggs were among the first companies to say they plan to take advantage of the temporary tax break. Some analysts believe as much as $400 billion in overseas earnings might eventually return to the United States.

Lawmakers purposely left out much of the language that would dictate to companies how they could spend their imported money. Instead, the Treasury Department ruled that the money can be used to hire and train workers, make capital investments, conduct research and development, advertise and market products, or stabilize the company's finances.

The only restrictions are that it cannot be used for executive compensation, shareholder dividends, stock buybacks, portfolio investments, or tax payments.

Balance Sheet

· A rock star heading the World Bank? It could happen, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, who wouldn't rule out the possibility of U2 singer Bono being on the short list of candidates. In addition to the Irish rock star, other potential candidates include recently ousted HP CEO Carly Fiorina; Peter McPherson, the former head of Michigan State University who served as President Bush's point man on rebuilding Iraq's financial system; and Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

· Just in time for spring break, gas prices are on the rise again. A survey of 7,000 gas stations across the country found that average retail prices increased nearly 7 cents per gallon in late February. The average price for self-serve regular gas was $1.97 per gallon. Analysts says prices will continue to increase with soaring crude oil prices and rising demand for reformulated gasoline required in many metropolitan areas to reduce smog.

· Credited with cleaning up his company's ethical behavior, Harry Stonecipher was forced out as president and CEO at Boeing after an internal investigation revealed questions about his personal ethics. The 68-year-old Stonecipher, who is married, reportedly had a "consensual" relationship with a female executive at the company.

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