Punctuation marks matter!!! Take care!

Our office seldom gets involved in advising on employment matters, but, of course, as solicitors
we have to keep abreast of current trends in all legal arrears. One such area has recently received
popular coverage in the press and it concerns the use of text and emails.

It has been an easily verifiable fact that the simple speed of composition, the mistaken pick of
a wrong address out of a list and occasionally the misuse of corrective text can get you into
trouble. But even such innocuous matters as the placement and use of too much punctuation can
land you in hot water. We all know that CAPITAL LETTERS are pretty hostile, and are the
equivalent of shouting, so generally should be avoided.

A recent case involved a university lecturer although the exact facts of his case concern his
additional post as a warden at one of the college’s halls of residence. Under the warden there
were three sub-wardens whom he had to manage. These sub-wardens complained about the
warden’s conduct as a result of which he was dismissed, causing him to bring a claim for unfair
dismissal. But the case about the dismissal was all about his aggressive style of texting, including

“why don’t you listen??????? Stick to what has been decided” and
“Do you have to stay for dinner?????”

The tribunal decided the multiple use of question marks was a deliberate device to create a
specific atmosphere and intention. They could have no other linguistic purpose.

So, it was found that the warden HAD been unfairly dismissed, but not simply because of the
punctuation, but the multiple question marks certainly didn’t help. The actual facts of the matter
did not add up to enough grounds to merit a dismissal. But the award of damages was seriously
discounted against him because of the “brusque, blunt and unnecessarily aggressive tone” he had
used. His monetary award was reduced by 25% and the possibility of reinstatement was ruled out
as completely inappropriate So, it remains a fact that GREAT CARE MUST BE USED in how
any such matters are typed!!!!!!!

For further advice about unfair dismissal ask John Pulham, who has limited knowledge of such
matters but will be happy to help if he can at:-

Messrs Pulham & Co
Egmere House,
Market Place,
IP17 1AG
Telephone (01728) 602084 or e-mail jsp@pulham.co.uk