In the interesting recent case of Williams v Leeds United Football Club, Mr Williams was a senior employee who had been given notice of redundancy and would have been due 12 months’ notice pay totalling £200,000.
After giving notice of redundancy, the club engaged forensic investigators to look through Mr Williams’ emails and discovered that over 5 years earlier he had forwarded an obscene email to a junior female colleague and two friends at other clubs. On finding this evidence, the club held a disciplinary hearing, summarily dismissed Mr Williams on the grounds of Gross Misconduct and refused to pay his notice pay. All this happened within a week of the original notice of redundancy!
Mr Williams brought a High Court claim for wrongful dismissal seeking to recover the £200,000. The judge dismissed his claim, even though it was clear that the club hadn’t actually intended to pay the money and were looking for reasons to get out of paying.
The judge said that because Leeds United hadn’t known about the obscene email when they started looking for evidence, they hadn’t done anything wrong. The dismissal was justified as Mr Williams had breached the implied term of trust and confidence in his employment contract by sending emails which could have (a) amounted to harassment of a junior colleague and (b) brought the club into disrepute. This was particularly serious due to his senior position of Technical Director at the club.
This case reminds us that we should be very careful what we send over our employer’s communication systems. While the sums of money were very big in this case, the principles could be applied to any similar case. It’s also interesting that the junior employee in question didn’t make any complaint herself, but the act of sending the email to her was serious enough to warrant dismissal.
For Further Advice
If you are an employer who is concerned about inappropriate use of your email systems, we can help you implement an electronic communications policy to ensure your staff know what is expected.
On the other hand you may be an employee who feels harassed by inappropriate emails and isn’t sure what to do.
For help and advice, please contact us for a free 30 minute consultation with one of our specialist employment law solicitors.
24 February 2015