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Be Careful How You Use Your Employer's Email Account!

Workers tempted to use their employers’ email accounts for purposes which could cause offence should take note of a High Court case in which a senior manager at a Premiership football club lost the right to a £200,000 severance payment after sending pornographic images to a junior female colleague and others.

The technical director had worked for the club for seven years before he was made redundant as part of a restructuring exercise. He was told that his employment was to be terminated and he expected to receive a year’s salary and other benefits on his departure. However, during his notice period, the club discovered that, five years previously, he had sent obscene images of naked women to the female colleague and two male acquaintances who worked for other clubs.

The club summarily dismissed him for gross misconduct and declined to give him his severance package. The man accepted that sending the emails was ‘inappropriate’ and ‘not best practice’, but claimed damages from the club on the basis that his misconduct was ‘not sufficiently serious’ to justify instant dismissal.

In rejecting his claim, however, the Court noted the seniority of his position within the club and his awareness that his job would put him in the media spotlight. His duties included identifying and nurturing young talent through the club’s academy, in which some of the students were as young as eight.

He had given no reasonable explanation for forwarding the emails and his conduct was ‘simply incompatible’ with the duties he owed as a senior manager of the club. His behaviour amounted to a fundamental breach of the term of trust and confidence implied in his employment contract.