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Watch those naughty pics -- it could mean the sack

IF you pass on emails with "inappropriate images" to your colleagues at work just for a laugh, be warned.

A case at the Employment Appeals Tribunal underlines the sort of trouble you can walk into by engaging in this fairly common behaviour.

Two women sacked by the ICS Building Society for circulating emails with pictures attached are disputing their dismissal.

What struck me is that a plank of their defence is their claim that "jocular" emails were regularly passed around by junior and senior staff (the bank denies this) and that they were unfairly targeted for sacking.

So could it have been you getting sacked and having to go off to the Employment Appeals Tribunal over emails circulated to colleagues?

If the answer is yes, then you are definitely not alone. The practice of emailing eyebrow-raising pictures "for a laugh" to colleagues is pretty commonplace, and not just in offices.

What's also common is the failure to realise that the email you send to a colleague or friend -- even if you are only passing on an email you got from somebody else -- can be tracked back by IT experts to you.


And what you thought was harmless, may fail to impress the boss. The result, at best, may be a period of stress and embarrassment and, at worst, of unemployment.

Last year Mike Bennett, a member of the Florida Senate, had the excruciating experience of being caught on film by a reporter as he opened an email during a Senate debate containing a picture of what were described as scantily clad women -- though to say that they were clad at all is a bit of an exaggeration. Bennett explained that the email had been sent to him by a woman "who happens to be a former court administrator".

I expect the woman saw the email as a commun-ication which would never be in the public arena.

But her actions are an example of the human tendency to do things with technology that not everybody would approve of -- a tendency that reaches into places high and low. What seems to have happened is that our liking for passing on jokes, clean and blue, and remarks about this, that and the other has latched on to our newfound technology and toys.


This started with texting. The mobile phone was probably invented for loftier things, but for many it became an instrument to use for circulating jokes by text instead of doing boring work. And it got ridiculous.

I recall observing two women sitting side-by-side in an office texting jokes to each other.

The jokes were of the variety that would strip the paint off walls but that's as far as it went. People didn't get fired over it.

Then along came email and images and the need for bored workers to make the time pass more quickly (though I am not suggesting that the two women in this case were anything other than diligent workers).

Or we do stupid things like rating the looks of colleagues of the opposite sex by email like some of the lads at PricewaterhouseCoopers last year.

The lesson is that if you want to have a laugh do it with your mouth -- telling a joke to a colleague rarely if ever gets anyone into trouble.

Resist the temptation to use technology as a joke machine at work.

In short, keep those fingers off those buttons.