A recent employment tribunal decision has stated that an employee can be dismissed fairly for sending an offensive email from his home computer to a colleague's home computer. In Gosden v Lifeline Project Limited, the email in question was a chain email sent by Mr Gosden to a colleague employed by HM Prison Service, one of his employer's biggest clients. It contained material of a racist and sexist nature, and called on all recipients to pass it on.
The employment tribunal had to weigh up the employer's right to protect its reputation with an employee's right to a private life and held that the dismissal of the employee was within the range of reasonable responses open to the employer in the circumstances. The main issue coming out of this case was not that the employee requested the information to be passed on, but that he had no control over whether or not the recipient would do so. This took the email out of the realms of private life. It should also be noted that the employer took care to consider properly the reason for the dismissal, which it identified as bringing the company into disrepute - one of the examples of gross misconduct set out in its disciplinary policy. It would have been more difficult to rely on breach of an IT or computer use policy as these policies generally only cover misuse of company systems.