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Rise in E-Mail Bullying

January 10, 2001

City firms are seeing a rise in employees taking legal actions against them for bullying and sexual harassment by e-mail.

Employees are printing off e-mails received from bosses or colleagues as evidence of misconduct towards them.

In the wake of the recent high-profile case in which action was taken against employees of Royal and Sun Alliance for e-mailing lewd material, a Norwich expert on employment law has warned that companies are being left rocking in the wake of new technology.

Norman Lamb, of Norwich solicitors Steele and Co, said: "Week by week we are now dealing with cases of bullying and harassment by e-mail in local companies.

"People tend to think that using e-mail is like talking — and they will fire off an angry e-mail or send a suggestive one without remembering it can be printed off.

"Employees are printing e-mails and using it as a record of what has been happening.

"Companies are being caught out because technology is moving so fast."

A study by risk management company the Smithson Mason Group has found 67 per cent of businesses in East Anglia have no formal staff e-mail policy because they are confused about current legislation.

Only 12 per cent said they regularly monitored their staff's e-mail and only 17 per cent had a formal e-mail policy.

New legislation, which came in last year, gives employers the right to read e-mails and listen in to phone calls, although human rights legislation protects an employee's right to private correspondence at work.

Mr Lamb said companies could save themselves a lot of trouble by laying down clear guidelines.

He said: "It is perfectly proper for companies to lay down rules saying e-mail and internet use will be monitored and even to say that they should be used for work only. But the employer has to give clearly defined reasons for the monitoring such as security or misconduct issues.

"Employers and employees need to know where they stand."

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