Many employees will exchange Valentine emails with their beloved or a secret
admirer this Monday. Although the more romantic employer is likely to turn
a blind eye on this occasion, personal messages such as these can cause real
headaches. Employers should be cautious about taking disciplinary action for
e-mail misuse. It must be made clear to employees what constitutes misuse,
for example, sexual or racial harassment arising out of jokes or photographs
or messages that may damage the company's reputation if leaked. It should also
be clear that misuse will be treated as misconduct.
A recent tribunal case serves as a warning against hasty decisions to dismiss.
An employer dismissed an employee for gross misconduct, arguing that her performance
slipped once she started sending "offensive" messages to her lesbian
lover. The tribunal found the employer was in the wrong as the employee had
been given no prior warning that her behaviour was unacceptable. She was awarded £26,000
in compensation for unfair dismissal.