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Alert bosses: Email can and will be used against you in court

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in HR Management,Human Resources

You’ve told managers before, now tell ’em again: Email may seem like private communication, but it really isn’t.

Anything a manager says in an email may become evidence in a lawsuit. And any statement in that email that might be interpreted several ways can take on a life of its own.

Recent case: Kimberly Norman sold ads for a radio station. She regularly hit her sales targets and got good reviews. She sometimes took intermittent FMLA leave for a medical condition.

After Norman returned from a stint of FMLA leave, her supervisor called her into a meeting and began criticizing her recent performance.

Norman demanded the discussion be recorded. The meeting was then canceled and Norman was fired for supposed insubordination.

She sued, alleging retaliation for taking FMLA leave. During discovery, an email came to light that said Norman was “a weak link.” Norman argued that this was evidence showing the station’s premeditated reason for firing her, and that insubordination was just an excuse. The court agreed and ordered a jury trial. (Norman v. Beasley Mezzanine Holdings, ED NC, 2011)

Final note: When it comes to email, limit communication to just the facts. For example, had the email simply listed sales goals missed or other hard facts, it wouldn’t look so inflammatory.

Plus, it’s rarely a good idea to fire someone on seemingly flimsy grounds. Instead, stick with measurable reasons like sales numbers.

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