A Wellington company has been ordered to pay $9000 compensation to a female employee it fired after she forwarded an email, from her father, containing pictures of naked people.
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruled Jessica Wood was unjustifiably dismissed, despite her employer, electricity and water metering business Arthur D Riley & Co Ltd (ADR), having twice previously warned her about similar behaviour.
The authority was told that when she started work, the administrative assistant was given a copy of the policies and house rules, saying dismissal was likely if she breached the company's internet or email policy.
The policy stated employees were not to "access, download, save, request, transmit, store or purposely view sexual, pornographic, obscene, racist, profane or other offensive or inappropriate material".
The company retained the right to decide what was "offensive" or "inappropriate".
In December 2005, Ms Wood was given her first warning for her high numbers of forwards, joke emails and the questionable material she was sending using company computers.
Her professionalism in the workplace was also mentioned.
Though she remembered some of the circumstances at the time, Ms Wood said she could not remember the warning itself being given. She denied signing a written version of the warning, saying the copy brought before the authority could be fake.
In August 2006, Ms Wood was given another warning, also recorded in writing and signed by her, saying she had again breached the company policy with the amount of internet surfing and forwards she was sending. She was also cautioned about the high number of personal phone calls she was making.
On August 28, Ms Wood received an email from her father, a Wellington City Council employee, on the subject of "Eleven Most hot People!!!!!!!" (sic)
The email contained images of barely clothed or naked people, some obese, others with female heads edited on to the body of male bodybuilders.
"The images were clearly designed to shock and ridicule, as evidenced by the subject title and the phrase employed by Ms Wood when she forwarded it,. . . namely 'ewww'," Denis Asher, the ERA member ruling on the case, said.
She sent this email to her workmates and friends.
About two weeks later, on September 14, she was invited to a disciplinary meeting for "downloading objectionable/pornographic material or offensive material" and personal use of company email and internet.
The next day, company representatives, including general manager Garth Mickell, met with Ms Wood.
According to notes taken by the company at the time and Mr Mickell's recollection, the general manager went through each image and told her why he found it "objectionable/pornographic or offensive".
Ms Wood, however, denied she was shown the pictures.
On September 18, the company met with Ms Wood again. She gave no comment except to offer an apology.
The company then fired her.
Mr Asher said the company had "a significantly flawed and less than consistent approach to its email policy".
He also deemed the pictures were not as objectionable as Mr Mickell made them out to be and that his views were "unsustainable".
"Something more concrete is required than Mr Mickell and his colleagues' personal views," Mr Asher said.
As the other employees of the company who had received Ms Wood's email had not been disciplined, the company was not being fair, he ruled.
Also, the email had been sent to her by her father from his workplace (Wellington City Council), and computer filtering systems at both workplaces had not caught it.
Ms Wood wanted $12,000 for loss of wages and humiliation, but since she didn't adhere to the "broadly sensible guidelines" given to her, her payout was cut by 25 per cent.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard Maclean said the woman's father had been reminded of the council's code of conduct around internet and email use, though no further action had been taken.
"On a scale of one to 10 (of obscenity), it was deemed this was not at the high end," he said.
The council was aware people circulated "joke" emails and had no plans to tighten up on personal use of its bandwidth by employees, he said.
Ok, sure people get sent junk mail but exactly how does one discipline someone for recieving an email? I think this lady deserves squat. She clearly violated her companies computer usage policy, which from the brief excert looks fairly standard, and yet manages to get a payout!?