Friday, October 5, 2012

Is ALL CAPS a Threat? - COTW #112

Turf war! Salespeople are often assigned a specific region or territory that is "theirs." They own it. When another salesperson encroaches, tempers flare. That's the setup for the latest Case of the Week

The case is Aversa v. UCBR, and it's a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case reviewing the decision of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR). The UC claimant was a salesman who lost part of his region to a co-worker. The Claimant emailed the co-worker a spreadsheet with sales figures from the region, and the body of the email read:
Hey Jim, you set me up pretty good ... I WON'T FORGET IT.
Ohhhh, not just "I won't forget it" - but, "I WON"T FORGET IT" all caps style! The employer terminated the employee for making a "threat."

The UCBR sided with the employer, holding that the claimant was ineligible for UC because he was terminated for willful misconduct (i.e. threatening a co-worker). The employer fired the Claimant under a policy that prohibited "actions intended to threaten or intimidate fellow employees" (that's the Court's language, not clear if that's the exact language of the policy). So, what do you think about the email Lawffice Space readers? Threat or no threat?

The Court sided with the Claimant. The Court held that there was no threat of actual consequences, just an admonition that the Claimant would not forget what the co-worker had done. The all caps added emphasis, "but it did not transform a four-word declarative sentence into a threat of violence." The Court also provided some interesting analysis specific to emails. For example, "[a] message transmitted through cyberspace does not contain the same force or immediacy of an in-person exchange; it is absent of voice or hand gesture." And, "[n]otably, the type size used in the e-mail is much smaller than the type size used in this opinion."

So, when assessing workplace threats via email for UC purposes: (1) email is not as threatening as in-person confrontation; (2) font size matters (really?); and ALL CAPS may add some emphasis, but is not in itself threatening.

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