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'Lewd' e-mailers keep jobs

January 11, 2001

Workers suspended by a leading insurance company over the distribution of 'lewd' e-mails have been told their jobs are safe.

The Royal and Sun Alliance in Liverpool sacked 10 members of staff and suspended 77 after the offensive e-mails were discovered.

The suspended employees have received written warnings after disciplinary hearings into the offending images - one of which showed cartoon character Bart Simpson in a sexual clinch.

It is believed that appeal proceedings are under way with regard to the 10 who were dismissed.

Head of communications Paul Atkinson said the disciplinary hearings had taken place over the past few weeks and that the suspended workers had been reinstated on a gradual basis.

"There has been a range of actions taken - but the vast majority of those involved have received a written warning," he added.

"This indicates that the matter is taken very seriously.

"Some may see a cartoon as a bit of fun but I am sure most would recognise that this sort of thing is not acceptable at work."

An internal investigation - launched after a complaint by a member of staff - uncovered several doctored images.

These are believed to have included one of Kermit the Frog, of the Muppets TV programme, and another of a donkey.

Last week, the company defended its decision to dismiss its employees, saying the e-mails went "well beyond questionable adaptions of cartoons".


Staff at the Liverpool office, where there are about 3,000 staff, and the company's other sites were sent guidelines about e-mail use last June, with warnings that offenders would be dealt with rigorously.

Government guidelines unveiled in October, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, gave companies the right to monitor their employees' e-mail.

But critics say the measures go too far, giving businesses too much freedom to snoop.

Legal experts have said that it will take the courts to sort out just how the regulations apply and what freedoms they give employers.

Smutty e-mail

The result of the legal action could be demands that employees only use e-mail and the internet for company business.

Products now on the market enable bosses to screen e-mails for suspect words or images, and even to record keyboard activity.

In December five law firm employees who forwarded copies of a smutty e-mail sent by a woman to her boyfriend were disciplined but not dismissed from their jobs at Norton Rose.

Mobile phone firm Orange and telecommunications company Cable and Wireless have both sacked staff for misusing the internet at work.


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