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Forwarding jokes to friends? Think again…

In a recent Employment Tribunal case, Mr Gosden was dismissed for forwarding a racially offensive American email from his home PC, to a workplace friend's home email.

The unusual point is that the email was sent from home PC to home PC - thus entirely outside of the workplace.

You might expect that Mr Gosden could not be disciplined for conduct outside of his workplace.

Mr Gosden worked in a prison for Lifeline Project Limited, a company supplying services to HM Prisons, and his friend worked for HM Prison Sevice.

The friend forwarded the "joke" chain email to colleagues in the prison at their work email addresses. The email thus became known to HM Prison Service. Mr Gosden's friend was forced to take early retirement because sending emails like this on work computers was against the rules.

Surprisingly, Mr Gosden's company dismissed him too. The dismissal was found to be fair by the Employment Tribunal because his employers said that his actions had brought them into disrepute with HM Prison Service, and that the email was in breach of its equal opportunities policy.

One of the problems for Mr Gosden was that the particular email specifically told recipients to forward it on.

Embarrassed employers will be encouraged to take disciplinary action against employees who forward offensive jokes in this way, and employees should be aware that their actions outside of the workplace may be called into question if they bring their employers into disrepute.