If you do customer support for Microsoft, don’t post about it on this website. You’ll probably lose your job. Over the past week, I’ve been in touch with two former Xbox support staff. Both people, who asked that we not use their names, say they were fired for writing comments about their jobs on Kotaku. One was let go last week, the other around a month ago.
In other words, be careful what you write on the internet.
By now, the stories are familiar: teens getting suspended for writing dumb things on Twitter; employees scolded for Facebook albums filled with bongs and whiskey. But how often does someone get let go for posting a comment on an internet news article?
Last Friday, a person, who we’ll call Bob, was told to call his manager at Alpine Access, the work-from-home company that employed him. (Alpine handles tech support for the Xbox 360.) His manager asked if he had ever heard of a website called Kotaku. Yes, Bob said — he had.
“[The manager] then continued on about how someone that was higher up at Microsoft found the comment I left on the news article,” Bob said in an email to me. “I was then reminded that we aren’t allowed to speak about the company, or anything related to it on social media sites or any related sorts… I ended up apologising for leaving the comment.”
I reached out to Alpine Access for comment and was directed to a spokeswoman for Sykes, the company that owns Alpine.
“We do have confidentiality agreements with our clients,” the spokeswoman said, noting that she couldn’t comment on the specifics of this situation. “And so we do expect our employees to abide by those confidentiality agreements.”
Bob’s manager said he would be suspended from work until Monday as they investigated the issue. On Monday, Bob got another call. He was fired.
Here’s the comment Bob made on Kotaku, in response to an article about Xbox support pranksters. (His comment has since been deleted.)
“I believe this entire thing was taken a little too far,” Bob told me. “I understand that it can make Microsoft look bad with an employee talking bad about their customers. But what I was saying wasn’t as bad as they are making it seem.”
The second former Xbox support staff, who we’ll call Frank, has a similar, but completely separate story. Frank also worked for Alpine Access. A couple of months ago, he was asked to get on a conference call with three Alpine executives, who accused him of stealing from Microsoft by generating codes that give out free time on Xbox Live’s premium Gold Membership.
But Frank says he didn’t steal a thing.
“They told me they were going to find proof and press charges against me,” Frank said in an e-mail to me. So he asked: if they found no proof, would he get his job back?
“Another person who was on the phone spoke up and said that’s not the reason I was being fired,” Frank said. “And that regardless of whether I’m innocent or not, they will never rehire me again because of the comments I made on Kotaku. They claimed the reason they’re firing me is because I broke the non-disclosure agreement I signed when they hired me. This agreement stated that I’m not allowed to tell anyone I work for Microsoft or Xbox.”
Here’s the comment Frank was fired for:
“In all honesty, if I was an employer and my employee wrote something like that about a product I was trying to sell, I could see myself firing them too,” Frank said. “I’m upset about losing my job, but I understand where they’re coming from.”
While I’ve blacked out both Bob and Frank’s usernames here (at their request), neither ex-Alpine employee used a Kotaku handle that was connected to their real names. We don’t know how Microsoft connected their Kotaku comments with their identities. Yet another compelling reason to be very, very paranoid about what you do and say online.