Grubby emailer wins his job back

By James Ihaka

A worker sacked for sending dozens of grubby emails has got his job back after successfully arguing that the correspondence was part of a wider work culture.

Philip Walker said a culture of sending emails "where the content was not likely to offend and was banter between colleagues" existed at his Safe Air workplace in Blenheim.

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The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found in Mr Walker's favour, awarding him $1000 for "a loss of dignity and injury to his feelings' and ordering Safe Air to reinstate him.

Mr Walker, a purchasing officer at the Air New Zealand subsidiary, was sacked in February after sending 425 non-work-related emails to colleagues and family members between March and September last year.

Safe Air said 26 of these were "emails of concern" containing explicit depictions of lewdness, nudity and/or sex acts.

The ERA found he was among a group that had contributed to a "widespread inappropriate use of emails" but it was likely Mr Walker did this because he was "not clear about the standards expected".

Mr Walker could not be contacted for comment but his father, Gary, told the Herald yesterday that the emails "weren't that bad".

"One of the ones they had came from me ... It wasn't that bad, it was nothing really," he said.

Safe Air general manager Heather Deacon would not comment on how the other employees involved had been disciplined or what the emails contained.

But she said the company did not "condone the use of company property for the distribution of sexually explicit material".

The company is appealing against the ERA's decision.

In her conclusion, ERA member Helen Doyle said she was not satisfied that Mr Walker clearly understood Safe Air's email policies.

When he became aware in September that Safe Air was investigating email use, he stopped sending inappropriate emails.

"In the circumstances of this case where there was widespread inappropriate use of emails, a fair and reasonable employer would accept that Mr Walker was less likely to have comprehended the seriousness and inappropriateness of the nature of the emails," Ms Doyle said.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national industry organiser Strachan Crang said a "handful" of other people were involved in mediation with Safe Air.

They all had some involvement with sending smutty emails, he said, and one was understood also to have taken the company to the ERA.

Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said sackings over the misuse of email or the internet were common.

He said companies had to have effective internet and email technology policies that were explained clearly and understood by staff.

"One of the main defences we see is people saying, 'I didn't understand what it meant' ... It looks like this was the case here."

Mr Walker was to have returned to work this week, but neither the company nor his family would confirm yesterday whether this has happened.

- NZ Herald

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