Mr G had forwarded the e-mail titled “The British Are Way Ahead Of Us” to a colleague who had worked with him at a different prison. The e-mail read “Apparently it is a sin for an Islamic male to see any woman other than his wife naked and that he must commit suicide if he does.”  It encouraged women to walk the streets naked so that Muslim men would commit suicide in order to “help weed out neighbourhood terrorists.”  The e-mail contained nude pictures of women and a heading at the top of the e-mail stated “It is your duty to pass this on”. 

Mr G’s colleague forwarded the e-mail to another colleague, at which point it entered the computer system of the Prison Service (HMPS) who not only disciplined its own employee but also brought this to the attention of Mr G’s employers.

Disciplinary proceedings were instigated against Mr G who admitted sending the e-mail as a “joke” to his colleague but denied responsibility for it appearing on the HMPS computer system. Mr G argued that he could not be held responsible for the actions of his colleague who caused it to appear on the HMPS computer system and that the contents were not offensive in any event.  Further, Mr G argued that the e-mail was private, sent in his own time from his home computer to the home computer of another colleague. 

The Tribunal disagreed finding that it was reasonable for an employer to conclude that Mr G had committed an act of gross misconduct which could damage the company’s reputation or integrity. Mr G may have tried to argue that it was a private matter and relied upon his right to privacy under the Human Rights Act.  However, even though the offending e-mail was sent from one private computer to another, the Tribunal concluded that it was never intended to be private in light of the encouragement or “duty to pass it on”. Mr G should therefore have known that it was likely to be forwarded to other people.

Helpful Tips

This follows on from the section on Social Media in the Workplace in the August edition.  As a starting point, employers are advised to ensure that a comprehensive internet and social networking policy is in place which makes it clear that employees should not send out offensive e-mails or similar communications, inside or outside the workplace as the consequences of doing so could result in disciplinary action.  This case highlights the tension between the employer’s right to protect its reputation and the employee’s right to a private life where social media is concerned.  One thing is for sure, the ease with which the “send/forward” tab is pressed, it will not be long before a similar situation is encountered.

Whether you are an employer or employee, if you have any queries relating to employment law, feel free to contact Yunus Lunat on 0113 284 5023 to receive friendly, clear and concise advice. 


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