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I Got a Warning for Writing Personal Email: A Case Study

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 13 May 2011 | comments*Discuss
Warning Written Company Email Personal

Modern technology moves so much faster than other areas of business that it makes it difficult for rules and regulations to keep up. The introduction of the mobile phone brought with it all manner of annoying ringtones and tedious updates to be overheard by colleagues, especially in that other super workplace invention, the open plan office.

Just as we were all getting used to turning our mobile phones to silent before we go into a meeting and realising that, yes, everything you say can be overheard in an open plan office, the introduction of the internet gave us something else to worry about.

The Internet is great for work – you can research potential clients with a few clicks of the mouse, and you can confirm meetings with whole groups of people within minutes. However, the internet is also all about surfing websites and sending foolish emails to your friends about what you got up to last night.

Aware of the Rules

This is where the problem started for Rob Blackthorn, 29, a business development manager for a manufacturing plant.

He told us, “When I joined the company I read the employee handbook and took notice of the advice on using emails and mobiles at work, so I was always careful to keep my mobile on silent and not leave it on my desk when I went for lunch. I kept my work email private and used my hotmail address for contacting my friends. I knew that a couple of people at work had been asked to cut down their use of the internet and we were all discouraged to use the internet if it wasn’t for work.”

However, not all of Rob’s colleagues were so conscientious and unfortunately this impacted on him rather dramatically.

Rob continued, “One of the guys from the plant was getting married and we all went on is stag do. It was a pretty rowdy, boozy affair and everyone was full of it on Monday morning. I had been in charge of the camera on the stag do, so I uploaded a couple of photos and emailed them to the guys in the plant. Unfortunately, one of them forwarded the email to the boss and he was not amused. Although the email photos were not particularly offensive, they were certainly not for family viewing and he took a very dim opinion of me.”

The Written Warning

Rob was called into the boss’s office and was asked to explain why he had sent the email to his colleagues. Although the boss was aware that another person had forwarded the email to him, Rob was considered more senior and required to take responsibility.

“I was so cross with myself because I had always been aware of not mixing business with pleasure," explained Rob. "I don’t think my colleague forwarded the email to be malicious, but it certainly got me into trouble. I apologised and said that I knew it was a foolish thing to do, but because everyone in the company now knew what was going on, they had to make an example of me.”

In accordance with the company’s employee handbook, Rob was immediately given a written warning for using the company email to send ‘inappropriate material’. This will come off his employment record in two years, but Rob is certainly now especially careful to not use company technology for personal communication.

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