A man that has been employed at the Swedish Migration Board since the 1980s has been fired for running a outspoken blog about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The pro-Israeli blog was started by Lennart Eriksson in 2003 and didn’t initially cause much trouble for the blogger, other than that his boss at the time required that he removed a link to the Migration Board from the blog.
But when Eriksson got a new boss in 2007, things changed. The new boss didn’t think that his one-sided support for Israel was compatible with his position as head of a group that handles asylum applications (since the conflict was creating many asylum seekers). So Eriksson was transferred to a lower position, which the District Court of Mölndal later decided equates to a termination of employment. The Court also stated that the grounds for this termination were illegal and that Eriksson had the right to get his old job back.
But the Migration Board refused to accept the verdict of the court and used a paragraph in the law for the protection of employment, which states that the employer can choose to terminate an employment but instead have to pay damages. This meant that the Migration Board had to pay Eriksson’s salary for 32 months plus damages, which totalled 1.3 million SEK, or 165,000 USD.
Some bloggers are now calling this a threat against the freedom of speech in Sweden, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the right conclusion. In fact, the District Court already stated that the transfer of Eriksson to a lower position was illegal, based on the grounds stated in the case. In other words, it was wrong for the Migration Board to relocate Eriksson for the views he expressed in his blog. So the protection of freedom of speech stands firm in my view. The open question is whether an employer should have the right to “buy its way” out of a conflict with an employee or not, especially when it comes to reasons such as political views. I don’t have a clear answer to that question.
The Migration Board clearly comes out as the bad guy here, no matter what you think of the case. This is classic big vs small, but since it involves an outspoken blogger it is more like big vs small on steroids. Eriksson is already coming out as some sort of martyr on the blog/news site Newsmill and will probably have a lot of support from the blogosphere. My guess is that the Migration Board will be fairly silent and hope this thing blows over, but a more proactive strategy could be worth considering.
A good post in Swedish about the matter can be found at MinaModerataKarameller.
Another intersting story broke yesterday about a guy who went to a chiropractor but was dissatisfied and wrote a negative review online. He might now be facing a lawsuit. More on that story here.
Footnote: The blog can be found at www.lennarteriksson.se/blog (that’s right, no link love from me).