If you have been following the Presidential race at all, you know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC Chair, was forced to resign her position because of some inflammatory emails she sent to DNC staffers regarding Bernie Sanders’ religious beliefs. Debbie apparently forgot the Golden Rule of emails – If you would be embarrassed if it was read in public, don’t send it in an email. Ms. Wasserman’s precipitous fall from grace should serve as a powerful reminder for all to us in HR about the use of emails.
In the words of the immortal James Brown, Please, Please, Please, Please think before you click Send. (OK, James was talking about something else, but I happen to be a big fan of the Godfather of Soul.) I can’t stress this enough. Think long and hard before you transmit an email concerning anything that could be embarrassing or damaging if it was disclosed in public or in litigation. This is especially true now in the light the current state of racial tension in America. An HR professional simply cannot be seen sending emails that are racially insensitive, regardless of their personal feelings. It will be nearly impossible to argue that you can effectively enforce your Company’s race harassment policies if the Plaintiff has in hand a racially inflammatory email that you authored. This type of evidence usually leads to an expensive settlement for the company and a job hunt for the HR representative that sent the email.
This admonition applies at all levels of a company. Certainly HR absolutely must get this right. However, employers must also train all levels of workers with access to the company email system to be aware about what they put in work-related emails. As a general rule, all workers need to ask themselves, “Would I want this email read to a judge and jury?” If the answer to this question is anything other than an unequivocal “yes”, the email should not be sent.
Emails are not permanent, but they are darn close. Assume that once you send an email it will be totally out of your control. You will not be able to control to whom it is forwarded, nor will you really be able to delete it completely. I understand that email is a convenient way to communicate, but face-to-face conversations or telephone calls are much better and safer for sensitive employment-related communications.
Remember; think twice before you click Send.