It has taken the high profile case of Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore to ignite discussion amongst many employers about the use of work emails for illegitimate purposes.
Scudamore stands accused of sending sexist emails to his male associates at the Premier League. He is alleged to have joked about "female irrationality" when women have children amongst other things. The emails were read by his female PA, who took offence at the content and has sued the Premier League for sex HR.
The case highlights that discriminatory email exchanges present a problem not only for the employees concerned, but also for their employer who may find themselves vicariously liable for the discriminatory actions of their employees. Best practice suggests that a clear, up-to-date email policy should be in place within individual organisations. This should stipulate clearly that the use of email for discriminatory or other inappropriate purposes is prohibited, and will likely constitute a disciplinary matter.
Such a policy works in the favour of all concerned: an employee who would have once engaged in ‘light-hearted banter’ with discriminatory connotations will likely cease to do so upon implementation of a zero-tolerance policy. This would save them the humiliation of being labelled ‘sexist’, for example, should such correspondence be read aloud as evidence against them at Tribunal.
Such an ordeal would, of course, be exceptionally damaging for the alleged victim, but the repercussions felt by the employer’s organisation could be equally so. No employer wants to be seen to engage with those with discriminatory attitudes – the reputation of the company would fall into disrepute and they may be found to be vicariously liable. The recommendation for today’s employers – particularly given the continuously expanding world of technology and social media in the workplace – is to serve their employees a clear and consistent reminder that discriminatory conduct simply will not be tolerated.
If you would like more information on your email or communications policy then please feel free to speak to your Legal Manager.