Finding the right words to correct an honest mistake
Published 09 November 2022
If you have ever sent a message to the wrong person or a group in error, you will know the horror that comes with realising what you have done.
If you have been less than complimentary about someone known to the recipient/s who wrongly got the message, then it makes matters even worse.
Charli, a housing and wellbeing assistant, sent a WhatsApp message referring to a colleague as acting like a f***ing idiot during an incident, and querying how best to deal with her female workmate. The pair were once good friends, but fell out when the woman the message was about made malicious allegations against Charli.
Charli intended the message to be sent to just one colleague, who she had known since both started work together at the company four years earlier But, by mistake it was sent to an eight-strong group of colleagues. Shocked Charli only realised the error when she checked her phone over an hour later.
Others had responded to the message with abusive and insulting comments about the individual. It included reference to her nationality, appearance, her weight and how a good slap was probably the best way to deal with her.
Horrified Charli quickly deleted her message from the group chat, did not apologise for sending it or react to anything she read.
When Charli turned up for work the following day, she was greeted by her manager and taken to his office.
He had screenshots of Charli’s message taken before she deleted it, and of the other messages sent in response to it.
The manager said the comments were wholly unacceptable and would be subject to a disciplinary investigation. He accused Charli of deleting the message to try and hide her involvement.
Apologetic Charli said she sent the message to the group in error and removed the message because she was appalled by the comments posted in response.
Charli was told her actions amounted to discrimination based on race, bullying and threatening behaviour.
She was suspended from work to allow an investigation to take place.
Charli was invited to a disciplinary hearing following the conclusion of the disciplinary investigation
the allegation was making racist, offensive and threatening comments about a colleague that amounted to bullying and harassment in breach of company policy.
The letter inviting Charli to the disciplinary hearing warned dismissal was a potential outcome.
Worried Charli contacted our Employee Support Centre for help.
At the disciplinary hearing, our representative argued Charli’s original message, intended for the group or not, could not reasonably be considered to support the allegations made against her.
He said the comment about how a colleague had acted was Charli’s honest opinion and blunt assessment of that behaviour.
The hearing was told by our representative that Charli did not directly refer to her colleague as being a f***ing idiot. And instead had compared her behaviour to that of someone who had done something silly, using language commonplace in the workplace and in keeping with its culture.
Our representative maintained no reasonable employer would ever find the single message sent by Charli, amounted to racist, offensive or threatening behaviour as alleged.
He said Charli should not, and could not reasonably, be held responsible for the subsequent comments from others, and she was disgusted by them and did not reply or agree with any.
The strained history with the woman Charli sent the text about was explained, as was the incident which led to her sending it. Charli had discovered the employee had lied to her and genuinely feared she was being set-up again.
Our representative said it was important to keep Charli’s role and part in what happened in perspective and to deal with it reasonably. He explained she was mortified and disgusted by what followed her error, but not responsible for or part of the abhorrent comments it triggered.
Charli was later cleared of any wrongdoing and given words of advice about social media use and company policy. It is understood three other employees were dismissed in relation to messages sent.