A woman whose email insults about her boss caused her to be sacked was unfairly dismissed, an Employment Tribunal has ruled. But she will not be reinstated and will only receive compensation of 12.5% of her losses because she was 75% to blame.
Agnes Wilkie was a television producer with Scottish Television (STV), the Scottish ITV franchise. She was suspended then sacked from her £70,000 a year job as head of features when emails were discovered referring to her boss Bobby Hain as 'a big fat thing' and 'blob'.
Hain discovered mails which had been sent to his personal assistant and was said at the Tribunal to have been "mortified". Wilkie was accused of having behaved in a way that was "tantamount to bullying", but said that nicknames "came with the territory".
Hain was said to have had the name Mr Bobby when he worked as a disc jockey, and that the nickname Mr Blobby, after the lurid pink and yellow toy that was for years Noel Edmond's on-air colleague, developed from that.
The Tribunal said that blame for the situation was to be shared. Wilkie was 75% responsible for the situation because her behaviour was calculated to undermine Hain and her conduct was serious.
It found, though, that the dismissal of Wilkie was unfair because she had offered to apologise, but that offer was rejected.
Following the discovery of the initial email, Wilkie was suspended in November 2005. Hain had found the email when he was searching through his PA's mails, with permission, when she was off sick.
On finding out that the mail had been discovered, Wilkie wrote to the PA to say: " Poor Bobby. Let me go and apologise and explain the context". Instead, the company made further investigations and found other emails.
Because of Wilkie's role in the situation, her compensation was reduced to 12.5% of her loss, the Tribunal said.
"I shouldn't have sent the email like that because it caused hurt," said Wilkie. "I referred to a member of the company in the same terms as most people in the company happily referred to him. Most people in my industry would say: 'I've written worse than that'."
"We welcome the panel's decision that Ms Wilkie's behaviour was calculated to undermine Bobby Hain, constituting a fundamental breach of contract," said an STV statement. "We believe strongly that all our people have the right to be treated with courtesy."
"We argued from the start that the process was flawed," said Paul Holleran, the Scottish organiser for the National Union of Journalists. "There is a lesson here for employers to take a reasonable approach and not to overreact. It is also a lesson to all workers to take care when using e-mails."