Labor & Employment

Viral 'Top 10' E-mail at PWC Shows Need for Work Boundaries Training, Labor Lawyer Says

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News last week that some male employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers had participated in an e-mail “top 10” ratings scheme concerning the attractiveness of new female hires in the accounting firm’s Dublin office, was followed by perhaps more surprising news this week:

Although upset that the e-mail, which contained a number of headshot photos of young women workers, has gone viral and become an international media event, the new PWC female employees don’t intend to sue, reports Irish Central.

“It is horrible for the women but everyone thinks it has been blown out of proportion,” says an unidentified source within PWC, contending that such behavior isn’t unheard-of at other businesses, including law firms, throughout the world. Likewise, while “unacceptable and childish,” the e-mail shouldn’t be a firing offense, the source contends.

“We are taking this matter extremely seriously and are launching a full investigation,” Carmel O’Connor, who serves as PWC human resources partner, said last week. “We will take all necessary steps and actions in line with our firms polices and procedures.”

Such behavior does occur elsewhere, even at law firms, agrees Michael Maslanka, an employment attorney in Texas who isn’t involved in the PWC matter. And the recent incident there, he says, emphasizes the need for workplace training about office etiquette.

Training is essential–particularly for young employees in their twenties, who routinely commingle work and personal lives and often don’t hesitate to post Internet comments about matters that older colleagues would likely consider private, training is essential, he says. “You’d be shocked at what they put on Facebook. It’s easy enough to spill over into a work e-mail … because they have no boundaries on Twitter or, more to the point, on Facebook.”

If an incident occurs, the perpetrators need to be counseled, not only about appropriate Internet behavior “but about treating their colleagues as colleagues and not a source of entertainment,” he tells the ABA Journal. While harassing behavior shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace, inappropriate e-mailing can offer an opportunity to teach and probably doesn’t require extreme discipline, such as termination, he suggests.

Maslanka’s suggestions for using what he calls principled compassion in dealing with such workplace incidents are detailed in an earlier post and linked articles.

Additional and related coverage: “Law Prof Decries ‘Beauty Bias’ and Killer Shoes, Suggests Legal Remedies for the Former”

Belfast Telegraph: “PricewaterhouseCoopers staff brought to book over raunchy emails”

New York Daily News: “PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland in hot water after email rating new hires’ hotness goes viral”

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