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Three workers at Hewlett Packard’s plant in Renfrewshire, Scotland, who were fired after sending or receiving e-mails of a sexual nature, have won a claim of unfair dismissal, according to local newspaper reports.

The tribunal found that HP had not been consistent in its response to abuse of the company's email system, according to the Metro, Daily Record and Evening Times coverage.

Lynsey Rankin, Richard Reid and Brian Graham were three of 100 people who had been caught under a company investigation into e-mail abuse. They were sacked, but others who had sent e-mails with a similar or more explicit content, were not.

According to the Daily Record, manager Robert Wilson had sent e-mails with sexual content (of a nature not disclosed in the reports) to Brian Graham. But Wilson was not punished because his mailbox was empty at the time of the investigation.

The employment tribunal ruled that the computer giant’s inconsistent approach to enforcing its e-mail abuse policy meant that the employees had been unfairly dismissed.

Reid and Graham have accordingly been awarded a full year’s pay in compensation, while Rankin is set to receive nine months' pay.

Robyn McIlroy, an employment law specialist with Masons, the firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, says the case highlights not just the need for an e-mail and internet policy, but also the need to enforce it consistently.

McIlroy commented: "This defence - disparity of treatment, inconsistency of sanction – is one which employees increasingly are seeking to rely on in such cases. This might be in fact one of the few defences open to employees, where an employer has a clear policy prohibiting the circulation of inappropriate e-mail, and can show that the employees concerned were aware of the potential sanctions for breach of the policy.

"It is essential, therefore, that such policies and sanctions are consistently applied and enforced - albeit that this will always depend on the individual facts and circumstances of every case."

© copyright 2003 OUT-LAW.com

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