EMAIL WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS GETS WOMAN FIRED

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I came across an interesting story the other day. An financial controller in New Zealand was fired after she sent an email to her colleagues in all capital letters. The email read: “TO ENSURE YOUR STAFF CLAIM IS PROCESSED AND PAID, PLEASE DO FOLLOW THE BELOW CHECKLIST.” Her supervisors claimed that the email caused disharmony in the workplace, since capital letters are considered to be rude and offensive.

Under New Zealand laws, the employee, Vicki Walker, was awarded $17,000 for wrongful termination. It would be difficult for such a claim to succeed in the United States under our laws of at-will employment, where such a reason would be legal for terminating an employee (unless, of course, a male employee wasn’t terminated for sending emails written in all caps, or if the terminated employee was black or Latino, if a white employee wasn’t terminated for the same conduct). Under at-will employment, the employment relationship can be terminated at any time and for any reason, provided it isn’t an illegal. And firing someone for WRITING IN ALL CAPS isn’t an illegal one.

What was interesting in an article that I read on the story is that Ms. Walker had received no prior disciplinary warnings for sending emails in all caps and that the employer, ProCare, did not have a style or etiquette guide for employees using email.

The lesson to be drawn from this situation is that all employers, whether small or large, should document all employee misconduct and should also have an employee manual or handbook stating laying out the expectations and guidelines for employees to follow. With a handbook in place, an employee won’t be taken by surprise when disciplined or terminated.

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