Home' micenet eMag : micenet June July 2015 Contents LEGAL ISSUES | MATT CROUCH
mail, perhaps the earliest of social
media to grace our desks, and
now of course our other devices
too. Though it doesn’t have the
sexy-tech appeal of such media as Facebook
or Twitter, it’s nonetheless a “social” medium
because information and communications
can be shared instantaneously by a large
number of people.
I arrive at work and the first thing I do (if I
have not already done so on the train with my
phone), is to check my emails.
It’s a bit like a tennis match. I have the
overwhelming need to hit as many emails
back over the net as I can as quickly as I
can. It’s courteous. My clients and others
expect it. And I get stressed if my inbox
exceeds that magic number of 100.
And therein lies the problem! Email
prompts us to respond in haste.
I go back far enough to remember when
business communications took place by letter,
carried by snail-mail. A carbon copy was kept
in the file. It was entirely acceptable if you
didn’t get a response for a week or two. The
arrival of the desktop (then the laptop, tablet
and smart-phone) put paid to that.
I have had clients (you know who you are!)
who have sent me emails and called me less
than half an hour later to ask why no reply.
And that in circumstances where there really
was no urgency.
This self-imposed urgency causes a lot of
Last time we looked at just how much the line between our personal and
business lives has blurred. This time we review email use.
AND YOU –
THE HUMBLE EMAIL (PART II)
problems, legal ones included. The following are some basic business email principles that I
think will help to keep you out of the mire:
• Consider whether an email is appropriate at all. Even if you have been sent an email, that
does not mean that you must reply by email. Some communications, especially those about
sensitive or emotionally charged subjects, are best done face-to-face, where tone of voice,
body language and facial expression add much more subtlety to what you’re saying.
• Slow down! Written in haste, mistakes are inevitable. Yes, use the spell-checker – but that is
not enough. Edit...and edit again.
• If the email you received upsets you, walk away from the computer and do not respond.
Replies written in the heat of the moment tend only to escalate problems, not resolve them.
• Use proper grammar (full sentences!) and punctuation. It’s a business communication!
• Email facility at work is a business communication tool. It has (or should have) your business
name, company name, logo, etc, and business contact details. That means when someone
else receives an email from you, they are getting an email (think “letter”) from your business.
Your business will be responsible for what was said – and so will you.
• It is perfectly legitimate for businesses to monitor the emails sent and received by staff.
• An email is a permanent written record of your communication. Deleting it does not mean it
ceases to exist. Forensic IT experts can find it. So be careful what you say. If you are
defamatory or misleading your business (and you) could be liable.
• Never use email to bully, abuse or send offensive or discriminatory content. You could be
sacked. Rightly so.
• Be very careful of the “forward” button. Although I have never seen the case report, I was told
once about a uni student who thought it clever to email his classmate to the effect that the
professor was a paedophile. While that was clearly defamatory, the damage was minimal; at
that stage. The problem was that the second student also thought this was funny and hit the
“forward” button so as to send a copy to all of his email contacts (hundreds if not thousands).
Massive defamation! One of the recipients of that email was the professor himself.
• Remember, contracts can be formed (often unintentionally) by email.
• The content of an email has just as much legal impact as a letter or anything else. I like to
treat emails as if they were letters written on the letterhead of the business. If you would not
feel comfortable placing your content in a letter, then signing and posting it – then stop then
and there! m
Matt Crouch can be contacted at Hodgkinson McInnes Legal via email - firstname.lastname@example.org.
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