A Good Rule to Remember: Bad Workplace Emails Never, Ever Go Away

By Eric B. Meyer

Not a day goes by — or, so it seems — that an employee isn’t making headlines for some social media stupidity that results in losing a job. But, social needs to keep its ego in check and pay respect to the true OG that paved the way.

Yeah, son — email.

As part of my respect-in-the-workplace training,  I tell employees and managers that bad e-mails are like dirty diapers: they stink and they never go away.

For example, over the weekend, I read this opinion (Jackson v. Gogel) about a woman who alleged gender discrimination at work. To support her claim, she subpoenaed decade-old emails from her boss (from when he worked for a different employer). Supposedly, these emails contained sexually explicit material and, thus, could reveal his attitude toward female employees.

Old emails are fair game

The boss sought to quash the subpoena. However, the judge denied his motion, because the rules of discovery in litigation are broad and “while material must be discoverable in order to be admissible at trial, it is not necessarily admissible simply because it is discoverable. Discovery must only be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” 

Therefore, according to the Court, this request was fair game for discovery:

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Through these emails, Gogel seeks to discover whether Jackson engaged in inappropriate behavior during his former employment. She reasons that this information is relevant and discoverable because it illustrates Jackson’s attitude about females in the workplace, which allegedly influenced his decision to terminate her employment. With this explanation in mind, the Court cannot conclude that the requested documents are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Jackson’s concerns about the age, origin and context of these emails may very well affect their admissibility in later stages of the litigation, but they are not grounds to bar discovery of these documents altogether.”

Sometimes, a phone call is the better way to go

I’m not suggesting that sharing misogynistic views on women is any more acceptable in person or over the phone then via email.

But, before sending an email — especially before you hit “reply all” — ask yourself whether a quick phone call or a walk down the hall to the recipient’s office makes more sense.

It usually does.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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2 Comments on “A Good Rule to Remember: Bad Workplace Emails Never, Ever Go Away

  1. Even better ideas:

    1. After you write your email, re-read it and think “can this be seen as offensive in any manner or misinterpreted by people who think differently than me?”

    2. If there is doubt, don’t hit send. Then consider asking one or two other respected colleagues for their opinions?

    3. Sit on the mail, figuratively speaking, for half a day or overnight and then re-read before thinking of hitting send. Again, ask yourself the question in point number 1 above.

    4. Examine your thinking, attitudes and behavior on a regular basis and learn healthier skill sets if people are put off by you frequently.

    5. And like the article said, pick up the phone or speak to people face-to-face to likely lessen the odds of misunderstandings.

    Michael Toebe
    High-Value Outcomes
    —Business First Aid for Communication, Anger and Disputes
    316-650-3242

  2. Even better ideas:

    1. After you write your email, re-read it and think “can this be seen as offensive in any manner or misinterpreted by people who think differently than me?”

    2. If there is doubt, don’t hit send. Then consider asking one or two other respected colleagues for their opinions?

    3. Sit on the mail, figuratively speaking, for half a day or overnight and then re-read before thinking of hitting send. Again, ask yourself the question in point number 1 above.

    4. Examine your thinking, attitudes and behavior on a regular basis and learn healthier skill sets if people are put off by you frequently.

    5. And like the article said, pick up the phone or speak to people face-to-face to likely lessen the odds of misunderstandings.

    Michael Toebe
    High-Value Outcomes
    —Business First Aid for Communication, Anger and Disputes
    316-650-3242

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