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What not to do at work – beauty firm Account Manager sacked for insulting email to clients

There are many things one should not do at work. Perhaps one of the worst is to insult your firm’s clients.

The Fair Work Commission has upheld the sacking of an Accounts Manager from a cosmetics firm for making disparaging comments about clients in an email she accidentally sent to them.

The company dismissed the key Account Manager in November last year for breaching the company's code of conduct and IT policy when she copied in clients to an abusive email about them, which she intended to send to a contractor who was also a friend.

The Accounts Manager – who worked for the company for 15 years with no prior misconduct warnings – realised what she had done when she received a phone call from a client company's Chief Executive, who she had made "highly offensive" comments about, which she claimed had no racist "intent".

The Chief Executive also contacted the company’s Sales Director, calling for a "consequence to this stupidity" and indicating he would no longer deal with any company represented by the Accounts Manager.

When the company asked the Accounts Manager to explain her actions, she said she was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, experiencing continuing performance difficulties and having trouble implementing organisational change that she alleged management had inadequately supported.

She apologised for sending the email and sharing clients' contact details, explaining that she accidentally copied it to the clients themselves as a result of "recent issues with concentration and focus" and had unsuccessfully tried to "recall" it immediately afterwards. The employee had two emails open and confused the contact details in each one.

 

The Accounts Manager complained that the communication contained a "profanity" that should have triggered the company's email filter to stop it reaching the clients.

 

She also claimed she had not been sleeping or coping well and was handling customer complaints due to what she saw as an inability of the customer services team to perform their duties. The tribunal heard that earlier on the same day she sent an email berating the firm's customer services team for being "totally incompetent".

The beauty firm’s HR director telephoned the employee and informed her that she would be issued with a letter to attend a disciplinary meeting on Monday, 14 November 2016, and that in the interim, she was not to perform any duties or contact any clients. The letter indicated that sending the email to the clients was highly inappropriate, constituted a breach of the Code of Conduct and could amount to serious misconduct. She was invited to bring a support person to the meeting.

The employee was advised that at the meeting, they would discuss the contents of the email, the impact that it had had on the business and the applicant’s explanation as to her intentions in sending the email. She would be given an opportunity to provide the respondent with any explanations or additional information in relation to her circumstances that the respondent might be unaware of in relation to the incident.

 

Finding the Accounts Manager's actions constituted a valid reason for dismissal, the Senior Deputy President said that even if her email about the clients had not been sent to clients themselves, "these comments would have been entirely inappropriate".

 

This was especially so given the Account Manager's job "was to manage relations with key customers". He noted her comments breached the company's Code of Conduct and its IT user Conduct Policy, which specifically prohibit statements in any email that would embarrass either the sender or the company if disclosed to the public.

"Obviously, the fact that the email with the offending comments somehow ended up being sent to the clients greatly multiplied the gravity of the misconduct," the Senior Deputy President said.

He also accepted that the email was sent to the clients by mistake but said, whatever the explanation, "the ultimate responsibility must be borne by the [Accounts Manager]".

"The email not only had the potential to but clearly did in fact damage [the firm’s] reputation and its relations with its clients."

He found the company responded appropriately to the incident, giving the Account Manager a chance to respond by email when she said she was too unwell to attend a meeting and taking her explanation into account, including by paying her in lieu of notice because she did not mean to send clients the email. The company also gave the employee a chance to appoint a support person at the proposed meeting.

The Senior Deputy President also noted her long period of service and apology. However, this did not "outweigh the gravity of the misconduct so as to render the dismissal harsh", the Senior Deputy President said, noting her other "intemperate and inappropriate" email sent the same day to the customer services team.

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