Sunday Times - Business Doctor: Using work emails for personal reasons

Peter Done: Managing Director and Founder

September 20 2016

RM Writes: I have an employee who has been using their work emails to send and receive personal messages during working hours. I have had an informal chat with the employee regarding this, but they have continued to do it. What steps can I take next?  Informal action can usually nip bad behaviour in the bud but when it does not have the intended effect, you have a couple of options for dealing with the issue. Another quiet word followed up by written communication to the employee that records the conversation is a possible next step to elevate the matter. This still does not constitute formal action but a written record of the discussion may make the employee realise the seriousness of the issue. If that fails to get the employee back on the straight and narrow, then it is time for formal disciplinary action. It is important at this stage that you review the disciplinary procedures in place in your organisation to ensure that you do not deviate from them. Ideally, you will also have a written policy on usage of email – it may be included in your general communications policy or internet use policy – which informs employees that personal use of the work email system is prohibited. This specific ban will be good evidence to use against the employee as part of a disciplinary procedure, however, you may still be able to achieve the same effect by less specific instructions on standards of acceptable behaviour. What is important is that the employee has been made aware in the past that the work email system should not be used for personal emails. The exact details of your disciplinary procedure may differ slightly, however, all disciplinary procedures should include inviting the employee formally to a disciplinary hearing. This is an important part of the process because the invitation should contain the allegations against the employee in as much detail as possible including dates and times that personal emails were sent. This is so that the employee is able to provide explanations – if there are any – to the allegations. At the disciplinary hearing, at which the employee has the statutory right to be accompanied, you should put the allegations to them and listen to what they have to say. Consider any mitigation that they may offer which may give reasons as to why the employee should not be disciplined. In the absence of mitigation, the employee should be issued with an appropriate level warning and given the opportunity to appeal.

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