HR Confidential

HR Confidential: We looked at her work laptop and found shocking emails

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In the fifth installment of CNBC Make It's HR Confidential, a Washington D.C.-based human resources professional with nearly 20 years of experience tells Ruth Umoh about the shocking threats one colleague sent through her work email.

The below is told in the HR pro's own words, and has been edited for length and clarity.

The scenario:

There were two female employees in the same department at a non-profit, where I worked as an HR representative. There’d been a prior issue between the two of them that led to a heated exchange in the office, so people knew they didn’t get along.

The manager for one of the ladies was working on a weekend and needed access to some information that the employee possessed. Although she wasn't working that day, the manager knew the password for her work laptop.

When he entered the employee's email to get what he needed, the manager saw that she'd been sending messages to the other female colleague threatening physical harm.

The employee was saying things like:

  • “I’m going to beat you up."
  • “I’m going to get my family to beat up your family."
  • “Don’t let me catch you outside."
  • “I’m going to get you.”

The second employee was responding, but must have had more sense than the first because all she did was kind of curse her out. She didn’t go as far as saying, “I’m going to knock you out this Saturday.”

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The solution:

When everyone came back to work on Monday, the manager beelined it to HR and showed us the printed emails. I was flabbergasted.

First of all, the employee was an adult in her 30s or 40s sending messages like a high-schooler through her work email. Plus, when you have a work email [account], the company technically always has the right to look into it. So I’m thinking, “Is she serious? Where is her common sense? At least use a Yahoo account.”

We knew that once we saw those emails this could not continue. The employee was called into our office and we basically told her that what she did was illegal. You can’t threaten people and think that things are going to be okay.

She had an attitude right off the bat because the manager had looked at her email, and I said to her, “You’re missing the whole point.”

She wasn’t apologetic at all and she felt justified in her anger. Obviously, we terminated her employment and gave the other employee a warning.

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The lesson:

I have no idea why the second co-worker never brought up that she was receiving these emails, but when we talked to her she didn’t really seem phased by the threats. She basically just said, “Oh, it’s all talk, no action. She’s not going to do anything.”

However, the first employee was using a work email and targeting an employee within the same organization, which means that the company would be held liable if we knew and did nothing to stop it. If this turned physical, the recipient of the emails could sue us for not taking action.

It’s important to remember that you must keep everything professional in the office. Your work email does not belong to you, so don’t use it for any personal matters — negative or not.

People get too comfortable with work property, especially when they’ve been somewhere for a long time. But even as far as the sites you visit, remember that the IT department can always pull those up and see what you’ve been doing.

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