A former Centrelink employee filed an unfair dismissal claim in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) last week after being sacked for accessing pornographic e-mails.
While the claim by former employee Darrell Williams was unsuccessful it raised the question of what is suitable e-mail banter between staff.
Williams told the hearing it was commonplace for staff, including management, to exchange ribald jokes and pictures by e-mail after admitting to sending pornography and sexually explicit images.
However, Centrelink national manager Hank Jongen rejected the claim and said such activity was not tolerated as staff are expected to maintain the highest ethical standards.
A Centrelink investigation found 24 employees were involved in the inappropriate use of e-mail that resulted in two sackings, two resignations and demotions for the remaining staff located in regional Victoria.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) industrial officer Linda Rubinstein said the union did not support the exchange of pornography at work but the case demonstrated the need for employers to have e-mail and Internet usage policies in place.
"It highlights the need for employers to have comprehensive policies in place that employees understand," she said.
A provider of software to manage electronic communications Clearswift advises organisations to apply a consistent e-mail usage policy across all levels of the company to avoid double standards.