Private Emails Lead to the Sack

Posted: 8th April 2011

A recent decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET) illustrates that care should be taken over any private communication made out of working hours if this contains material or expresses views that would fall foul of your employer’s equal opportunities policy and/or Internet policy. In certain circumstances, you could face disciplinary action should the communication end up in the public domain and reflect badly on your employer.

The case concerned a man who worked for the charity Lifeline Projects Ltd., which provides help to drug users and works closely with HM Prison Service (HMPS). Whilst working on assignment to HMPS, he forwarded a chain email to a colleague from his home computer outside working hours. The email, which contained racist remarks and images of naked women, was headed ‘It is your duty to pass this on’. The colleague in turn forwarded the offensive email to an HMPS employee at his work email address and it came to the attention of the management of the prison where he worked. The prison employee was offered early retirement and the charity worker was suspended from doing any further work for HMPS as a result.
Lifeline Projects Ltd. subsequently dismissed its worker for gross misconduct that had caused damage to the charity’s reputation. He claimed that he had been unfairly dismissed.
The ET ruled that the dismissal was fair, however. The fact that the offensive chain email stated, in a prominent position, that it should be passed on meant that the charity worker could not have expected it to remain private and it was through his actions that it had made its way onto the computer system of HMPS, one of Lifeline’s biggest clients.
Devotees of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites take note!