Discipline For Emailing A Former Co-worker

Question:

Do my employers have the right to discipline me for emailing a former employee? The former employee has sent my email to my employer and said she feels threatened and is concerned about her reputation in the industry. Since she no longer works at our company, how can my employers have the right to discipline me? It’s not workplace harassment.

Signed,

It’s Not Right


Answer:

DearĀ It’s Not Right:

Our site is committed to responding to workplace communication concerns, not legal. Your question about the right of an employer to discipline you for your contact with a former employee hinges on an employer’s fear of being sued. Because employers are leery of being sued for a bad reference, one course some choose is to say little other than date of hire and or separation, beginning. Others additionally might provide ending wage and job title. You probably know now, if not before, that an employer is hypersensitive about being charged with harassment; therefore, can you understand why your employer is troubled that a former employee complained you have emailed her and that she sees it as harassment? It is not out of the question that an employee who separated from a company can bring a harassment complaint for the time she was employed at that company, and an email from a coworker, such as yours, could surface such. You can check with Human Resources to get an explanation for discipline that is handed out and then you can submit a refutation and explanation of why you think this is unfair. For example, you might say if it is true, that motivation for your contact with that individual was a desire to make a date or reconnect as a friend. Unfortunately it was misconstrued as harassment. And if it your email was sent from outside your workplace, you might argue that it was not done in your capacity as an employee, but as a private individual. Of course, apparently you were not aware that contacting a former employee is off limits and had never been informed that it was. You might check with your company’s policy book to learn if such was ruled out of line. Have you made a straightforward statement that you would not have made this contact if you had known such an action could harm your company. Have you offered an apology? Doing so might not clear you of discipline but it should mitigate it. Can you learn from this and see it as time to commit your self to responsible performance? If so, it is likely that you will put this incident behind you. I expect that there would be no need to consult an attorney unless the charge of harassment is carried further. We will be interested to learn how this matter is resolved. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden