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What We Put on the Internet: Infertility and Employment

The Daily Dot had an interesting post yesterday about getting Dooced for what you write online.  In other words, losing your job over your Internet musings.  Some of the examples were blog posts, others were Tweets or Facebook updates.  The point is to be careful about what you put online.  It’s not just complaining about another person or uploading pictures of yourself drunk on Facebook; the Daily Dot article even covers people who didn’t get a job because the writing they placed online wasn’t up to snuff for a position that relied heavily on a person’s writing style.  His tweets were deemed “banal.”

Which brings us to the topic of infertility.

podcasterImage: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

We know from the EEOC that there are protections in place if your employer discovers that you are doing fertility treatments either because you give your employer that information or they discover that information inadvertently.  Infertility is protected as a covered disability.

But what about when your employer discovers your blog, sees that you are ensconced in treatments and are therefore engaged in family building, does the math to see how much maternity leave will cost the company if you do get pregnant, and finds a reason to let you go in order to avoid paying for said leave?

Of course this is illegal, but how many people could build a case against their employer for being unfairly laid off?  It’s not as if the employer is going to give skulking on someone’s blog and the subsequent number crunching as their reason for dismissing the worker.  It’s fairly easy to fire an at-will employee; it’s much harder for a worker to build a case against an employer that they were wrongfully terminated because they wrote online that they were trying to build their family.

So where does that leave infertility bloggers?

It’s a sticky situation.  You want to be able to talk about your situation and gather information and support.  You can go the anonymous route, though I sometimes think that anonymous blogging gives the writer a false sense of security and therefore a lack of circumspection.  If you’ve ever logged into your blog from work, if you’ve ever visited your blog at work, if you’ve put in any Google-able details about yourself in a post, if you accidentally left a comment once that utilizes your real name: you’ve created a trail to your anonymous site.

The Internet additionally is a place where hindsight is 20/20.  You may begin your blog writing under your own name about something innocuous as your wedding plans, and years later, have that same site grow with you and morph into an infertility blog.  Your name is already attached in search engines to those entries.  The Wayback Machine ensures that people will be able to find your name linked to the site for years to come.  Or the opposite could be true; you write about a certain topic not considering how it could bite you in the ass… until it bites you in the ass.

We’re writing today but we don’t know what could get us in trouble tomorrow.

So what is a person to do?  The reality is that chances for wrongful termination are slim.  Even if you write under your real name.  The vast majority of employers will not terminate an employee just because they may have to pay maternity leave in the future.  Part of being on the Internet is accepting that as much as the Internet brings us, it also takes away.  It takes away our privacy, first and foremost.  And you don’t even need to be on the Internet for that to happen when it comes to the posting proclivities of other people.

But the Daily Dot article is also a reminder to be circumspect.  To think before you post because words and images live on forever on the Internet.

Do you worry that what you write online could get you fired?

15 comments

1 Hayley { 03.11.14 at 8:49 am }

I thought about what I was posting a lot. I was job-hunting at the time, and I knew it was a possibility that I’d get passed over due to the stuff I was dealing with on the side. However, it actually turned out to be a good thing — my future employer DID find my blog (I work in tech so this was not a surprise) but it turned out 2 people on my interview panel also struggled with fertility issues, so it was kind of a weird point in my favor…like, I fit in with the team. In a really weird way. Obviously it alone didn’t get me the job, but it wasn’t something that got in my way. Obviously also, this is a freak occurrence no doubt.

I think it really depends on your level of comfort with potential risk-taking. Is getting the internet community support worth the risk? For me, yes.

2 Mrs Spock { 03.11.14 at 8:53 am }

Just for giggles, I checked to see if my blog, which has been pwp for several years, shows up in the Wayback Machine. It doesn’t. Whew! People on my team at work know we went through IF, and I have no problem sharing if someone asks. They know I wrote for OBOS, as that will remain on my resume. But helping to work on a prestigious book is much better than some of those early posts or having the leadership at a future employer being able to see not only my obstetric history, but other health issues. I never rant about work or my patients online, but still not comfortable with that access.

3 chickenpig { 03.11.14 at 9:17 am }

Talking about infertility is a risky business. Not so much about being fired, but being dropped by insurance. Now that we have obamacare, my husband’s company is looking for reasons to drop ppl from their insurance. Ppm have been dropped for ‘risky’ behaviors like river rafting or rock climbing that has been posted 0n FB. IF is c0vered, but pregnancy and adding a child in the future might be reas0n en0ugh.

4 Cristy { 03.11.14 at 10:05 am }

An interesting spin on an old theme of being mindful about what one posts. Unfortunately, it is a lesson that needs to be preached again and again, as there is this assumption that writing something down and presenting it to the world allows the author to maintain complete control. Yet there are so many examples where this is far from the case. Where someone’s rant can be turned against them, resulting in a firestorm that they were ill prepared to manage.

As someone who blogs semi-anonymously, I make a point to not talk about entities or people who I am professionally linked with. I also check search engines fairly often to see if I can find myself. All that said, every time I hit the publish button, I really do try to determine if what I’m posting I can stand behind and defend. If I woke up tomorrow and found my words plastered all over CNN, could I imagine handling the firestorm.

Thanks for the post. As always, a lot to think about

5 Rachel { 03.11.14 at 10:17 am }

I was always urging my admins not to do this. Some of them I had on FB, and they would list their place of employment on FB and then post very questionable things. People don’t realize that when you post your company on your profile, you then become advertisement for the company. If you start posting pictures doing questionable things, you’re not representing your company very well, and can be dismissed based on that. Leave your work OFF of FB, and keep your posts to things you’d be comfortable with anyone knowing and be considerate in everything you put online. I think the biggest misunderstanding is that what you put on social media, or in your blog, has no impact on your career. But it does.

6 Mrs T (missohkay) { 03.11.14 at 10:56 am }

When I was in law school, my constitutional law professor once asked if any of the students were avoiding writing about controversial topics in their law review note because of future career goals. I was taken aback when several students raised their hands; it had never occurred to me. I have known from the day I started my blog that I was leaving a record that may someday be scrutinized. I have known from the day I started my blog that the judge I clerked for was asked to produce every single piece of writing he’d authored in his adult life when he was nominated to be a judge (a lofty but unrealistic aspiration of mine too). I write anyway, but I try to pass every controversial post or one with intensely personal details on my future self’s radar screen.

7 MissingNoah { 03.11.14 at 11:52 am }

I do worry about this because we terminated for medical reasons. I am a former teacher who may go back some day. And I know that there is a possibility that some self righteous parent could find my blog and raise hell.

8 a { 03.11.14 at 3:19 pm }

I was fortunate to learn very early in my career that putting things in writing can have serious consequences. Some guys I worked with sent an email critical of other employees, and the wrong person saw it, and one of them got fired. This was waaaaay back in 1993 maybe? Since then, I don’t put anything in writing anywhere that I would be embarrassed to talk about in person. (At that same job, I had another employee confront me about rumors that I was talking shit about her behind her back. It was my great pleasure to tell her that, sure I said those things, and I didn’t mind saying them to her face either. She didn’t know where to go with that. If I think it will embarrass me to hear it repeated back to me, then I just don’t say it. Otherwise, it’s fair game.) And in my current position, I can’t say anything about my work until long after a case is complete. This is why my blog is…well I was going to say anonymous, but it’s more defunct than anything. This is why my status updates on FB are rare and general. This is why I don’t often post pictures, although the things I do for fun and entertainment are pretty innocuous. Do I worry that I could get fired for what I post? Not really, because I am very aware (most of the time) of the implications of what I put in writing.

9 Catwoman73 { 03.11.14 at 3:31 pm }

I worry about it constantly, which is why I say nothing about work on my blog. Other than the fact that I don’t really like my chosen career, but that is no secret to anyone in my life- including my coworkers. Fortunately, my employer was very supportive of my family building efforts, so that never would have been an issue. But as much as I would love to rant about some of the frustrations I experience at work, I simply won’t do it. Even if I don’t like my career, I do need it… For now. Until I win the lottery. It’s going to happen. I swear.

10 Battynurse { 03.11.14 at 8:19 pm }

I don’t worry about what I write getting me fired although I make it a point to not talk about specific patients I care for on my blog. I’ve seen a couple other nurses who blogged about the stupid stuff people did that landed them in the hospital and while funny, that could all totally be found and could lead to problems with employers. Both of the blogs I followed are now gone so maybe they figured it out. I’ve learned that no matter how tempting it may be to share about a patient, even not using names and details, it’s still not a good plan.

11 kate { 03.11.14 at 10:10 pm }

I have an anonymous blog, which makes it easier to not worry about it. Same with my twitter. I don’t post anything much on FB, and there’s enough people with my name, and hopefully my privacy settings mean I am fairly hard to find. That said, I try not to write anything I wouldn’t back up with my spoken words.

12 Mali { 03.11.14 at 11:10 pm }

I’m back on the job market now for the first time in ten years. And I will admit that I’m quite nervous about having my blogs out there. I write under a pseudonym, but if you knew my real name, it would be easy to find my blogs. And I feel quite vulnerable, even though I’m pretty confident I could stand up to everything I’ve said online. Obviously I’m writing about life after infertility rather than being in the throes of it, so that isn’t a factor for me (and it is a lot harder to fire people in NZ than in the US I believe). I guess the nervousness is there simply because I know people can be judgemental.

13 Pepper { 03.12.14 at 4:58 pm }

This is one of the biggest reasons I was not on any social media until I was on bedrest (and not planning to return to my job) with my pregnancy. I had seen teachers get into trouble (suspended) multiple times for posting things on FB which were later seen by admins or parents. I’m still so careful about what I post – nothing controversial really, that’s for face to face conversations that leave no paper trail.

14 Amel { 03.13.14 at 4:53 pm }

I don’t find talking about infertility as a problem because we’ve stopped trying, so even though I have my coworkers and boss in FB and I do share infertility related articles, they probably know by now that we’ve surrendered to life without kids. So if any, I’d actually think that the fact that we don’t and can’t have kids is a plus for me in terms of employment.

As to writing about work, if I ever have any complaint about work, I won’t write it down in my blog. I only tend to write about funny stuff at work or good stuff or just general stuff about new challenges at work and how I’ve coped with them, but I won’t go into details.

15 loribeth { 03.23.14 at 6:56 pm }

I write under a semi-pseudonym — and while my blog is mostly about personal stuff, I have written periodically about my job & my coworkers — but I have tried to be discreet — I don’t use names & I try not to be too specific or give too many details. I would probably be even more careful if I lived in the U.S. and was still going through fertility treatments, since your medical coverage there is (still) so closely tied to your employment.

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