Human resources questions: What do I do about an offensive email one of our employees sent to his coworkers in the dental office?
Tim Twigg and Rebecca Crane of Bent Ericksen & Associates explain the steps you need to take if one of your employees sends a potentially offensive email to other employees in your dental practice. First, you must make sure you have a comprehensive email policy in place for your protection and that of your employees.
Q: One our employees sent an offensive joke to his coworkers. I am worried about getting sued for harassment from someone who takes offense to this type of email communication. I feel stuck about addressing it, because the email was from a personal account from home. What can I do?
A: My first concern is whether or not you have a comprehensive email policy currently in place. This policy should include a ban on using email for harassing or offensive communication. If you do not have such a policy, I encourage you to rectify that as soon as possible.
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As for addressing this employee, counsel the employee on the email communication policy (if applicable), and inform him that the email sent with the offensive joke is considered a form of harassment. Be sure to clearly state that the company has a zero tolerance policy for such conduct. Depending on the severity of the behavior, issue an appropriate form of disciplinary action such as a verbal or written warning, suspension, termination, antiharassment retraining, etc. You may also demand that the individual make an apology to those who received the email and explain that it won’t happen again. Document everything, including the action you took to correct the problem.
The fact that this individual chose to send the email from home is not relevant if the communication was disseminated to coworkers. All employees must be allowed to work in an environment free from harassment or offensive behavior.
Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Crane is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit www.bentericksen.com.