Unfair dismissal: Offensive emails

2 mins

Posted on 18 Mar 2011

In Gosden v Lifeline Project Ltd, an Employment Tribunal found that an employee was dismissed fairly for sending an offensive e-mail from his home computer to his colleague's home computer in his own time.

Mr Gosden was employed by Lifeline, a charity which assists drug-users, and he was assigned to HM Prison Service (HMPS).   Mr Gosden forwarded a racist and sexist e-mail to the home computer of an HMPS employee from his home computer. The colleague, Mr Yates, decided to forward this e-mail to another colleague on their HMPS email address.  The email was then discovered by HMPS, Mr Gosden was suspended from working for the HMPS and Mr Yates was “allowed” to retire.   Lifeline then conducted its own investigation (in which dismissal was recommended) and disciplinary action ensued.   It was found that Mr Gosden was guilty of gross misconduct for having carried out an act which might damage Lifeline's reputation or integrity and for having breached its equal opportunities policy.  Furthermore, as he had also been excluded by HMPS from all prisons in Yorkshire and Humberside, his employment was unsustainable.  This was a further ground for dismissal.  Mr Gosden was dismissed for gross misconduct and he brought a claim at the ET for unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal.

The Tribunal considered that it was in the range of reasonable responses for Lifeline to consider that forwarding such an email to its largest client might damage its reputation and that this can be an act of misconduct.  Mr Gosden argued that because the investigating officer had recommended dismissal that the subsequent dismissal was tainted with bias.  The ET did not agree in this case, although investigating officers should still take caution in this regard.  The case is particularly interesting as the act of misconduct took place when Mr Gosden was in the privacy of this own home.  The email was headed “It is your duty to pass this on!” and therefore Mr Gosden knew that it was likely to be passed on and he had little control over this.  In these circumstances, it was deemed reasonable to dismiss. 

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