Improper emails in the workplace – etiquette to consider before sharing

Posted on 07 February 2013

Have you ever received an email at work and as you scroll down to discover the contents, every step of that email’s journey is there for the world to see as it has been sent on from group to group, collecting large volumes of email recipient’s addresses along the way, without any information being deleted prior to sending on to the next group. These forwards now include your email address which, more than likely, identifies your name and your company. This email will then be on-forwarded to the next round of people who are unknown to you. Whilst this may not be a problem if you receive these emails at home, if you receive them at work, or send them from your work email address, you may find you are in breech of your employer’s policy regarding the use of the company email system.

It goes without saying that few people would not know that the express reason for having a company email address is to carry out the role they are employed for and to enable easy communication with work related contacts. However, personal relationships do develop and exist inside and outside of your company which means the chance of emails other than for work purposes being generated and distributed is high and your work email address is being distributed in each of the emails which are on-forwarded from group to group. Many of the emails will be harmless photos to either make you laugh or make you reflect on a poignant theme, but the line is crossed when offensive material, including pornographic images or malicious emails, is passed along via the work computer. You may receive this type of email knowingly or you may receive it as part of the on-forward process with no personal participation in approving or accepting this type of email being received. 

Fair Work Australia has now dealt with a number of cases where an employee has been guilty of distributing a pornographic or offensive email. The employee, when the email breech is discovered, has been dismissed from their employment. The subsequent challenge the employee mounts against the dismissal through Fair Work Australia has resulted in a variety of outcomes depending on the circumstances of each individual case. As social media connections for work purposes grow through professional networks such as LinkedIn and also on Facebook as this medium is now used as a marketing and networking tool for many businesses, it should be remembered that if sending an email from your work email address or engaging others through social media networks on behalf of your employer, you are bound to the rules of the company policy which governs your workplace social media and email activity. Naomi Holtring, from InterMEDIATE, lists email etiquette she suggests we all adopt and her first word of advice is for people to “engage their brains before sending an email".

  1. Check you have not accidentally hit "reply all'' before sending an email.
  2. Always double check the email address of the person you are emailing.
  3. Do not name people in emails, or write things that would undermine the reputation of colleagues.
  4. Do not share pornography at work, even using your personal email. 

Keep up to date with your firms email and social media policies and ensure you report any offensive emails you receive immediately. It is also OK to request that friends or colleagues remove you from their group email forwards to your work email.