All too often, employees think that their texting is personal, according to Christine Walters, J.D., SPHR, a consultant with FiveL Co. in Westminster, Md. But texts can resurface in employment lawsuits, so employees and managers should be trained to keep all of their texts as professional as other communications.
“Texting seems to have evolved in a world of its own with lexicons, acronyms (LOL, TTYL) and a whole new language that has not carried over to other forms of e-communication,” said Walters, author of "From Hello to Goodbye: Proactive Tips for Maintaining Positive Employee Relations" (SHRM, 2011). “The use of this slang seems to foster an overall sense of relaxed communications that may lend itself to more personal and less professional comments, questions and statements.”
Walters remarked that she has “seen issues arise in which an employee and manager may be friends or have a romantic relationship outside of work. They think their messages from their own phones and off work time are their own.” She noted that if a harassment charge is filed, the manager’s texts may be used as evidence of harassment. “On the flip side, the employee’s messages to the manager can also be used defensively by the employer to show that sexual, racial or other off-color comments/jokes were welcomed,” she added.
Walters pointed to a Feb. 1, 2012, lawsuit decision in which an employee had kept all the romantic texts that a male co-worker sent to her (Stevens v. Saint Elizabeth Medical Center Inc., U.S. District Court for Eastern Kentucky). In that case, a nurse and doctor had a consensual affair, including having sex at work. After they broke up, the doctor allegedly continued to pursue the nurse, sending romantic text messages and attempting to touch her.
The nurse was fired for disruptive work behavior and having sex on the premises. The doctor also was terminated for having sex at the office. She saved his text messages and they were cited in an affidavit. Although her harassment claim failed because the messages “clearly did not create an environment that a reasonable person would find objectively hostile,” the case