e-mail can easily be abused in the workplace by management and workers alike, which may lead to costly discrimination claims if policies are not adhered to
A recent survey carried out by Reed.co.uk discovered that one in six of the 3,400 workers questioned complained of being bullied by e-mail in the workplace. While e-mail is a fast and efficient work tool, it is also open to abuse, and employers need to be increasingly aware of the potential damage this can cause.
E-mails written in a curt manner along with those containing capitals and exclamation marks can often cause offence, as can e-mails where an inappropriately familiar tone is used.
Workers can also feel bullied by a bombardment of e-mails containing demands and deadlines, and it's all too easy for managers to abuse their position of power by having instant and constant access to all of their staff.
The growing use of e-mail can also create an office environment where people rarely talk to each other, sometimes even where they share the same office. As a result, employees are able to hide behind their e-mails, and often write things in them that they would not say to another's face - leading to a breakdown in relationships.
Last year, for example, Liverpool City Council introduced an internal e-mail ban for one day a week when it realised 6,000 computer-based staff sent each other 40,000 messages a day. The idea was to reduce buck-passing and time-wasting, and to encourage them to solve problems by actually speaking to each other.
Similarly, e-mails of a sexual nature with lewd comments, pictures and jokes are often sent by individuals who wouldn't send such memos.
These e-mails can make staff unhappy and sometimes lead to problems of absence due to stress. In the most extreme cases, they may feel compelled to leave. Where staff (usually female) are sexually harassed by e-mail, they often lack the confidence to speak out against the perpetrator, and may end up resigning instead.
Employers could end up with claims for constructive dismissal and sex or race discrimination. While compensation for unfair dismissal has a limit of £53,500, discrimination damages are unlimited. These claims tend to be more high profile and often concern obviously pornographic elements.
Discrimination can also take the form of harassment - particular