Communication | Worker blames autocorrect for 'racist' email

Worker blames autocorrect for 'racist' email

Emailing colleagues is a core part of working in an office. This can be used to liaise with colleagues about work projects, communicate with clients overseas and to exchange data.

Therefore, they do play an important role in the day-to-day running of a business.

One worker received backlash after sending a ‘racist’ email to a colleague which led to him being fired just a few days into his job.

Yet, university worker Ollie de Planta Wildenberg claimed that the auto-correct function on his computer had changed his colleague’s name to ‘Hash brown’ in the email – The Daily Mail reported.

De Planta Wildenberg alleged that he was only made aware of the email error after his line manager highlighted it to him the next morning and that he had never had contact with the email’s recipient before.

He said: “Hash brown is not a racist term. It is a breakfast item. It is a bit weird to call someone that intentionally. Why would I do it? To class it as gross misconduct is just unbelievable. It was a typing error. There is nothing to suggest this is racist.”

After the disciplinary investigation into the ‘racist’ email, he was let go after bosses were unable to replicate the error to prove that the message had been amended by auto-correct.

While university bosses appeared to take the matter seriously, given that de Planta Wildenberg was sacked, the university worker claimed that his boss had taken a more light-hearted approach when initially discussing the email, despite the fact that it was dealt with as a misconduct issue. He also accussed the university of failing to follow its own disciplinary procedure.

De Planta Wildenberg said: “It was an informal meeting and he was laughing about it. He just told me to be more careful in the future and I thought that was the end of it.

“…No one wants to see racism or prejudice in the workplace. But accidentally calling someone a hash brown is not racist.” 

However, the university believed "that in the balance of probability you did type the words in question and the words were perceived as offensive and involving racial language".

A spokesman confirmed that de Planta Wildenberg is no longer employed by Newcastle University.

While emails can make communication faster and more accessible, it does come with a caveat and they can cause headaches for HR, particularly when functions like predictive text are in the picture.

Due to the fact that email recipients can’t see their sender’s facial expressions or body language alongside an email, it is easy for the context of the message to be misconstrued.

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Therefore, encouraging staff to think before they type is crucial to avoid any misunderstandings.

It is always best practice to proof-read emails before sending them. Not only will this make them sound more professional, but it will avoid the prospect of offending the email’s recipient.

If this advice is communicated early on to employees, then it may cause HR fewer headaches in future.

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