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Microsoft photo prompts blogger's regret

A long-term temp says the software giant fired him after he posted a photograph on his Web site of Macintosh G5 computers being delivered to the company's Redmond, Wash., campus.

A long-term temporary worker says that the software giant fired him after he posted a photograph on his Web site of Macintosh G5 computers being delivered to the company's Redmond, Wash., campus.

The temp in question, Michael Hanscom, said that according to Microsoft, the fact that the computers photographed were Macs had nothing to do with the decision to fire him. He claims he was sacked last week for violating company security policy rather than implying that Microsoft uses equipment from rival Apple Computer.

The incident stirred controversy on other Web discussion sites, including the widely read Slashdot.org, and Hanscom said he woke up the morning after his post to more than 250 e-mail responses.

He said that although Microsoft may be getting bad press, he does not fault the company for the decision. "I goofed. I regret it, but the damage is done," he said in a post on his site.

Microsoft declined to comment on the incident, citing policy against discussion of personnel matters.

According to legal experts, the recent explosion in popularity of Web logs, or blogs, means companies must re-evaluate how they respond to employees commenting on company-related issues in a public forum.

Hanscom, who worked at the MSCopy print shop, noticed a truckload of G5 Macs being delivered to the campus, and took a picture of them to post on his blog, which he said is generally read by friends and family. He said he framed the photo so that nothing of the campus was visible. But when Microsoft got wind of the photo it decided to let him go, according to Hanscom's own account.

For employers, the incident highlights the fact that workers are increasingly making comments that are visible to the public, which can raise conflicts, according to international law firm Masons.

"In a worst-case scenario, employers might find themselves liable for the comments made by their staff," Masons employment law specialist Robyn McIlroy said in a statement on out-law.com. "Blogging could also open the door to problems of defamation and harassment." McIlroy recommended that companies revisit their employment policies on confidentiality.

But any policy ban on Web logging at work should be made clear, McIlroy said. "That should be clearly stated in the communications policy and reflected in the disciplinary policy, and of course employees made aware of these restrictions on use," she stated.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.