Sending private emails at work could get you the sack

Home ADVICE & GUIDANCE Sending private emails at work could get you the sack
Email Control

Some chain emails, funny and joke emails that make light of certain situations or are a play on words cheer people up and make some people laugh.

Yet some of those emails, when sent from your work account, will get you dismissed from your job.

The Technical Director of Leeds United football club forwarded and email from his work account to a female friend who worked at another club in March 2008. The email contained sexually explicit attachment described as ‘obscene and pornographic material’ and the email said ‘Looks like dirty Leeds!!’

In 2013 the club discovered the email and dismissed the Technical Director for gross misconduct. The Technical Director claimed that he sent it to cheer his friend up and that she would appreciate the humour in the email.

Given the Technical Directors seniority and positon of responsibility, combined with the pornographic material, he faced a severe disciplinary sanction. The problems then mounted for the Technical Director because of the derogatory reference to the football club and the fact he sent the email to a female. The female friend could have been upset by the content and images, and his actions could have harmed the football clubs standing and reputation. The High Court deemed that the club could constitute the Technical Directors actions as gross misconduct and were entitled to dismiss him without notice.

Although the Technical Director had not even been given a copy of the club’s internet usage policy, but the court confidently stated that the employee did not need such wrongdoings to be ‘spelt out’. The court in effect was saying that it was obvious the Technical Directors action were wrong for an employee of his standing.

However, note of caution, an ‘ordinary’ employee, with an ‘ordinary’ standing in a company, may not be subject to the same result if the case was replicated in another business. Leeds United are a high profile club and had the media and press been aware of the email, the club could have been the victim of negative press coverage and as a result suffered a loss financially as well as a loss of reputation. However business that are of a lesser media interest may not necessarily be able to make the same decision. It is a case by case decision based on the facts of that particular case.

A word of warning as well that electronic communications can come back to haunt you, even 5 years after you first sent the email!

Despite this ruling, employees should still be given and asked to confirm receipt of the company internet and computer policy. It will help to safeguard the business and assist in making disciplinary process more transparent and importantly fair. Employees should be warned against sending emails of a personal nature from their work email accounts.

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Elena Boura