I remember the morning as clear as day. I sat on the balcony of a luxury suite at a Sandals resort in Jamaica. I was still in pajamas while sipping on exquisite Blue Mountain coffee with a travel agent friend of mine. We were at the resort as part of a “fam” trip through her travel agency.
I had my laptop open and was logged into a shared work folder in my Dropbox account, when I nearly spit coffee all over my screen.
Right before my eyes, I watched as my work files disappeared from the shared folder, in real time. One gone. Then another. And another. Until finally, there were no files left.
My eyes bulged.
As the files were disappearing, an email notification popped up and it was from my employer for the work project. It was a termination notice, effective immediately, due to a story I’d written on my blog.
My travel agent friend also read it in complete shock, and said, “Is this bitch for real?”
Part of me was like, “Yaay, now I can spend the next month gallivanting around the island with no work to do.”
But another part of me was stunned that my employer was able to take something SO out of context and use it against me.
Here’s the story and how it all went down.
Months earlier I had received an email via my travel blog, from an American woman who found me through the blog, read several of my accommodation reviews, and wanted to hire me for her project.
The project would entail me spending eight weeks in Jamaica, touring and photographing luxury villas, and writing property listings for her.
She was preparing to launch a luxury villa rental website and needed someone on the ground doing all the leg work for her. Duh, of course I accepted the contract.
As part of the job, she had me living in a villa that she was connected with. It was a lovely 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, really comfy place to spend my time. I did most of my writing beside the private pool in the back yard.
The villa was fully staffed with a housekeeper, groundskeeper, and a chef who doubled as my driver to all my assignment properties.
Not a bad gig, right?
Being in Jamaica on this contract fueled more content for my blog, because my blog was about Jamaica travel. It was a perfect marriage. I got paid to do her job, and outside the job I had continuous content for my travel blog.
After a few weeks of living 24/7 with the villa workers, I considered them more as friends than staff and thought it would be interesting to write an article about them.
I called the article, “The Help,” partly inspired by the movie The Help, which had been released a year prior.
It made perfect sense to me. The main character in the movie was a writer, I’m a writer. The other main characters were the help, who lived in wealthy homes and took care of everything to make the lives of their bosses better. The writer wanted to tell the real story behind the help.
It seemed like a perfect comparison to the villa staff who absolutely make the lives of vacationers better, just by doing their jobs.
My blog story was completely subjective and very well written. I highlighted the most positive aspects of staying in a fully staffed villa. I wrote about how Jamaica was more than just tropical umbrella drinks, good food, and the party life. It was also about getting to know and appreciate the locals who work tirelessly to enhance the tourism experience.
Although the story was written from a positive viewpoint, I also mentioned that villa staff work very long hours and are expected to cater to guest needs pretty much on call, and for very little pay. I was witness to this because the villa where I lived had a group of paying guests come in for a week.
I watched the chef have to whip up food at 2AM for drunk guests when they’d come back in from a night out. I heard the drunk and disorderly guests well into the wee hours, when villa staff should have been sleeping so they could greet everyone with breakfast in the morning. I witnessed demand after demand at any hour of the day or night.
I get it. The guests were paying good money to be on vacation. But it was a real eye opening glimpse into the lives of villa staff.
Anyway, back to my firing. The woman who fired me via email said that my blog article was highly inappropriate, EVEN THOUGH the villa was never named nor photographed for the story. The staff remained anonymous, and the story was written as generally as possible.
The only person who knew which villa and which staff I was referring to was HER. And in the grand scheme of things, I could have been writing about any vacation villa. They’re all the same.
I wondered if I’d just made her feel guilty somehow, because there was no other reason to fire me for writing a blog post that had nothing to do with her own business project.
My blog and her website were two entirely separate entities.
Lessons I learned from being fired.
- If you’re employed as a writer on a contract basis, have an actual contract and make it a good one. Mine wasn’t good enough. It didn’t have any early termination clauses in it, so I only got paid for the few weeks I actually did the work.
- Make sure you know who holds the copyright to your work. Thank goodness I had backups of all my work outside the shared Dropbox folder. I had no use for the property listings I wrote but I definitely wanted to keep all my photos as personal proof that I gained entry into villas with helicopter pads! When would that ever happen again?
- You can never know how people will interpret to your personal work. Even though I wrote the story on my own travel blog, employers can and will watch your social media. Consider yourself informed.
In the end, her luxury villa website never did launch. Believe me, I watched out for it for many months after this incident.
I felt good about the fact that she cut off her nose to spite her face and it was a fail for her. She’d hired the most qualified person for the job, and fired me without real cause, but only she failed in the end.
I just spent five more weeks in Jamaica on my own dime. No real loss there!
If you’ve ever considered dipping your toes into the travel writing pond, subscribe to this community full of road maps and directions.