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You'd Think We'd All Know the Dangers of 'Reply All' by Now

Is there any more helpless feeling in today's business world than sending an email, and then immediately realizing that you made a mistake?

May 8, 2013
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Related Topics: Wrongful Discharge, Policies and Procedures, Legal, Technology
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Is there any more helpless feeling in today's business world than sending an email, and then immediately realizing that you made a mistake? The biggest cause of an emailer's stomach sinking through the floor—"reply all." We've all had it happen. This story from the Toronto Sun explains how a reply-all mistake brought one company an expensive wrongful discharge lawsuit:

Maria Fernandes … accidentally received an email discussing whether or not she should be fired.

Court documents allege that Linda Guerin, the company's Director of Operations intended to send the email to the company's lawyers. Too late she realized Fernandes was also on the list and she unsuccessfully sent three recall notices. She also sent an email to Fernandes asking that she delete the message without opening it.

Fernandes read it, treated the information in the email as a constructive dismissal and hired a lawyer. She had worked for the company for over six years and was earning $145,000 a year.

This case is a great reminder that a mis-addressed email can cost employers dearly in a wrongful discharge lawsuit. Other reply-all risks include the disclosure of trade secrets and other confidential information.

How do you protect against this problem affecting your business? The Toronto Sun article discusses some add-ons for Outlook that will either remove the "reply all" button or require an extra confirming step to use it.

Technology, however, will only mask the symptoms. It will not cure your workplace of this problem. To really attack the problem, you need to educate and train your employees.

  • Do you train your employees on proper email etiquette, including when to use (and, more importantly, not use) "reply all?"
  • Do you teach your employees to proofread entire emails carefully before they click "send," including double-checking the "to," "cc" and "bcc" boxes?

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.

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