A recent decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET) illustrates that you should think carefully before pressing the email ‘send’ button on what you regard as a private communication made out of working hours. If the email contains material that would be in breach of your employer’s equal opportunities policy and/or Internet policy were it to appear on the computer system at your place of work, there may be trouble in store. In certain circumstances, you could face dismissal should the email end up in the public domain and cause damage to your employer’s reputation.
Mr Gosden 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 email to an HMPS employee on his work email address. It came to the attention of the management of the prison where he worked with the end result that Mr Gosden was suspended from doing any further work for HMPS.
Lifeline Projects Ltd. subsequently dismissed Mr Gosden for gross misconduct which had caused damage to the charity’s reputation. Mr Gosden 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 Mr Gosden could not have expected it to remain private and it had made its way onto the computer system of HMPS, one of Lifeline’s biggest clients, because of his actions.
Devotees of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites take note!