Cable company sacks six for email "misuse"

Employees need to be cautious as more are sacked for sending emails

Another six employees have lost their jobs for alleged "misuse" of email as Cable & Wireless confirmed Tuesday it has dismissed six people from its Birmingham office.

It comes a day after the British Chamber of Commerce warns that personal email in the office may become a thing of the past and is the latest in a string of cases in which companies have come down harshly on employees who appear to break company policy on the use of email.

Cable & Wireless is keeping quiet on the details of this case but issued a statement claiming it has a clear policy on the use of email in the office and this is regularly communicated to employees. "The company will not tolerate the use of company communications tools to carry or download any defamatory, discriminatory, offensive or obscene material. Regular reminders are issued to this effect," the statement reads.

Companies are facing a difficult choice -- either allowing employees freedom of email speech and risking libel actions or complaints, or facing the wrath of the Data Protection Commission by spying on what their employees are writing.

The Commission's code of practice about surveillance in the workplace is due to come into force next spring and companies breaking it will face heavy fines. The situation is made even more confusing by apparent contradictions between the Data Protection Commission's code of practice and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

Sacking employees for perceived misuse of email is nothing new. In September, mobile phone network provider Orange sacked 40 employees for distributing "inappropriate material" in the biggest case in the UK so far.

Last year the New York Times let 23 staff members go for sending "offensive" emails around the office. At the beginning of this week an engineering company in Huddersfield dismissed two employees for abusing its email policy.

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