A key accounts manager who worked for a cosmetics company was not unfairly dismissed after mistakenly sending an email intended for a personal friend to multiple clients.
The email contained disparaging comments about some of the business’ clients the friend would be in contact with, including references to the client’s ethnicity and origin. The employee was alerted to her mistake after receiving a missed call from one of the clients the email reached. Despite contacting her husband who works in IT and making attempts to recall the email, two clients who had read the email contacted the cosmetic company that day to indicate they no longer wished to work with the employee.
The business consequently stood the employee down pending a disciplinary meeting. The employee then produced a medical certificate which covered the day for which the meeting was scheduled and so the business requested a response in writing. The applicant responded in a two-page email in which she cited her reasoning as “issues with concentration and focus” and incorrectly copying the clients into the window for the email intended to the friend whilst she had two email windows open at one time. She also questioned the business’ IT processes not blocking the email; “Also may I ask why COTY’s email filter did not prevent the email being sent as I was using company email and logged into VPN, the email contained a profanity and should have been filtered.” The explanation was deemed insufficient given the damage to the employment relationship and the employee was subsequently terminated and payment was made in lieu of notice.
In considering the unfair dismissal application, Deputy President Hamburger was satisfied the email was in breach of the business’ code of conduct and IT user conduct and, whilst it was accepted the email was a mistake the “ultimate responsibility must be borne by the applicant”. It was also noted that a second “intemperate and inappropriate” email was sent earlier that day by the employee to her customer sales team in which she labelled them as “totally incompetent”.
This case emphasises the importance of implementing sound policies within a business and following robust show-cause process when dismissing an employee. Under current employment legislation, costly consequences await organisations found to be recruiting, managing or terminating staff incorrectly. Attend our Employment Law or Managing Termination, Redundancy and Unfair Dismissals to increase your knowledge on employment legislation and counselling and discipline processes to best manage an unfair dismissal claim.
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