I've said before that it's important to be careful what one says in an e-mail. It could, and most likely will, come back to haunt you, after all. But apparently it's just as important to be careful how you say things in an e-mail.
Late last month, Yahoo Tech blogger Christopher Null wrote about Vicki Walker, who was fired from her position at New Zealand's ProCare Health because she routinely wrote e-mails containing bolded text in all caps, and in red, to boot. Her co-workers, and ultimately her boss, found this practice unacceptable, and she was let go without warning. Null says her e-mails were considered confrontational and that they created "disharmony in the workplace."
Null then asks where it is appropriate to draw the line for "confrontational e-mail." More to the point, he wonders, "Is it ok to fire someone for misuse of the caps lock button?"
I'd have to respond with another question or two. Did the company have established e-mail use/etiquette policies? If so, what were they? Were they enforced properly and consistently? I don't know this for certain, but since Walker subsequently won a wrongful termination lawsuit against ProCare Health, I would guess the company's policies on e-mail use, if they existed, were inadequate or were not consistently enforced. The fact that Walker was let go without warning is a big indicator all by itself.
So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record: Does your company have an established e-mail use policy? Do employees know which offenses can result in termination and which ones require warnings or other chances to change behavior before termination will occur? Are employees trained in proper e-mail etiquette as well as in the risks that etiquette failings can create for the company?
Let Vicki Walker's case serve as a reminder that they should be.