You’ve got e-mail problems

Know when to discipline and when to fire for cause
By Natalie MacDonald
|CHRR, Guide to HR Technology|Last Updated: 03/11/2003

Internet abuse is one of the biggest headaches employers are facing. Whether it’s the sending and receiving of inappropriate messages, surfing for pornographic Web sites or excessive use of personal e-mail, employers are spending a lot of time and effort disciplining employees and, in many cases, terminating employment for cause.

In most cases, courts will find disciplining an employee for Internet abuse to be a reasonable action. But when it comes to terminating an employee for cause, the employer must proceed with caution because there are varying degrees of misconduct. Certain offences, like excessive use of personal e-mail, should not be lumped together with serious or offensive ones such as as downloading and sending racist or pornographic material.

The natures of the offence, the work environment, the employee’s length of service, whether the employee was honest with his employer and the jeopardy to the employer are some of the factors courts and arbitrators are considering.