Woman sacked for reading private emails awarded €15k

A Dublin firm sacked a sales representative after she went through the private email account of a colleague.

However, the Employment Appeals Tribunal has found Michelle Fitzpatrick was unfairly dismissed by Westwood Club Ltd and has awarded her €15,000.

In the case, the company told the tribunal that Ms Fitzpatrick had scrolled through the private email account of a work colleague and a company log showed that 75 emails were viewed/printed in a six-minute period on August 6, 2012, while her colleague was out of the office.

The firm told the tribunal the actions by Ms Fitzpatrick — who had worked for the firm since 1999 — amounted to an erosion of trust and she was dismissed from her employment following an investigation and disciplinary process.

Ms Fitzpatrick told the tribunal that she was using a particular computer in the sales area of the office and when the screen saver disappeared on the computer, subject material on the screen showed her name.

She said that she viewed an email that contained three attachments.

Ms Fitzpatrick told the tribunal she pressed the “print” button over and over again as she was angry as the attachments contained lies about her. Ms Fitzpatrick took the documentation home with her.

Ms Fitzpatrick accepted that her actions were wrong but said she was angry at the lies written about her.

At the hearing in Dublin held over two days, Ms Fitzpatrick accepted that she should have been subject to a disciplinary sanction but did not believe that she should have been dismissed.

Ms Fitzpatrick said that, since her dismissal, she has secured work for three periods of temporary employment but is currently out of work.

In its ruling, the tribunal stated: “Improper use of the email and internet is a major issue in many companies today. This is particularly true in financial and technology companies but also applies to many companies where commercially sensitive information is stored on computer. The material which the claimant [Ms Fitzpatrick] viewed was not commercially sensitive in any sense but related to her personally.

“To her credit, Ms Fitzpatrick admitted from the outset that she read and printed the emails and attachments and the tribunal attach great importance to this in assessing proportionality. Given that it was information relating to herself, the tribunal is not convinced by the ‘erosion of trust’ argument. The tribunal therefore finds that the dismissal was a disproportionate sanction.”

However, the tribunal did find that Ms Fitzpatrick was in the wrong as she admitted from the outset.

Ms Fitzpatrick assessed her loss of earnings at €34,334 and the tribunal was of the view that the sum of €15,000 would be “just and equitable having regard to all of the circumstances”.


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