Last week I wrote about Suspensions in the Non-Union Workplace and the case of Carscallen v. FRI Corporation (June 10, 2005, S.C.J.) decided by my former partner Justice Randy Echlin. In the course of the discussion, I mentioned Justice Echlin's comment about email:
It is indeed tragic that a relationship of this duration ended in this fashion. It is also unfortunate that the parties chose to communicate their feelings to each other by e-mail. While e-mail is a useful method of conveying of information, it is less appropriate for debates in hotly charged circumstances. It seems odd that neither [the supervisor] nor [the employee] picked up the telephone and spoke to each other directly. This might have defused matters. In the end, it cost [the employer] a valuable employee and cost [the employee] her job.
David Fraser at PIPEDA and Canadian Privacy Law has an eye-opening post about the dangers of email at Very little is private when it is sent by e-mail that is a must read. David links to a BBC article entitled Ketchup spat embarrasses law firm which quotes Dr. Simon Roberts research director of Ideas Bazaar consultancy:
Also, we find it easy to use e-mail to say things we would feel a bit uncomfortable saying in person because we feel more distant from the interaction."
Although email is a quick and efficient means of mass communication, it is less than desirable as a medium for dealing with difficult and possibly acrimonious subjects. The more difficult the conversation, the more likely it is that a face to face discussion is required.
Also, as noted frequently at the excellent Electronic Discovery Blog, email messages and other electronic "documents" can be the catalyst for litigation and can contain gems of information, often in the form of a smoking gun.