Melbourne, June 23 : Labour lawyers suggest that employees refrain from e-mailing anything from an office computer which they feel is too embarrassing for them to discuss with their 'grandmothers', lest they should be sued over their online conversations.
Stressing the importance of "the grandmother test", labour lawyer Patrick Boyd warns that anything inappropriate e-mailed from a work computer may be used against the sender in law courts.
"When you communicate something, even though you did it after giving the topic 30 seconds of thought, it can be used in a court of law years later. Email is perceived as casual, and it should not be," he says.
The warning comes in the wake of a case of conspiracy and securities fraud in which the e-mails of two Bear Stearns executives are the evidence against them.
The online exchange between the two fund managers questioned the performance of certain funds in which they were allegedly investing clients' money.
Both of them may have to face jail time and heavy fines if charges against them are proved.
"This stuff is obtainable, and it's difficult to deny once it's printed out," News.com.au quoted Josh Bowers, a labour lawyer in the US, as saying.
Legal experts say that forwarded jokes, though are usually meant to be harmless, may be dangerous if a complaint against the sender is filed.
They point out that managers may ask concerned authorities to monitor the e-mails sent by an employee, whose ability to meet deadlines is not impressive.
According to them, sexual e-mails provide reason enough to fire an employee or even prompt legal action.
"Those emails can be used to show a pattern of harassment," says Matthew Blit, a labour lawyer.
He recalls a case in which a woman filed a lawsuit claiming that her employer did not protect her from sexual and racial discrimination, but the examination of her outbox revealed that she used to forward jokes containing sexual and racial content to her brother and mother from her work computer.
"The attorney said, 'You're complaining you were discriminated against, but here you are sending them out yourself. Isn't that correct?' " Blit says.
The experts highlight the fact that most employers require their employees to sign handbooks including the electronic communications policy that any correspondence sent from an employer-owned computer belongs to the company, and that technology allows employers and prosecutors to retain messages sent years ago.
Many employers periodically scan employees' e-mail for certain key words, such as profanities, or other vocabulary that could denote violence or harassment.
Even a confidential exchange between an attorney and a client isn't protected if an email is sent from a client's work computer to her lawyer, say the legal experts.