As someone who has represented employers in employment law matters for more than 25 years, I have seen more than a few high level executives brought down by extramarital dalliances. Married CEO’s who end up in bed with an administrative assistant; sales executives who send racy emails to a subordinate while sipping their fourth Jim Beam at a lonely hotel bar; human resources professionals “sexting” coworkers .. you name it. There is not much in the world of office romance that takes me by surprise anymore. Nevertheless, the recent revelations about former CIA Director Petraeus’ alleged extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell have shocked me. Its not the fact of the alleged affair that was unusual – that is pretty mundane in my line of work. What really rattles me is the fact they sent incriminating emails to each other – and did it via a Gmail account! After watching all the Jason Bourne movies multiple times and as a devotee of Jack Bauer in “’24,” I just assumed that spies are smarter than that!
So what is the point of this blog post? It’s to remind our readers of the same thing I have been saying in virtually every management training session I have conducted since email came on the scene in the early 1990’s: “Don’t put anything into an email that you are not prepared to see on the front page of the New York Times.” If you need to discuss sensitive personnel matters, do something that is almost unthinkable for many of us today – discuss it on the phone, or better yet, face-to-face. If you want to bad-mouth a colleague behind their back, do it the old-fashioned way – whisper in the break room or do it behind closed doors. If you ignore my advice and do it “electronically” – whether by email, text, tweet, or Facebook post – you better be prepared to be sitting in a conference room two years later trying to explain to some lawyer why you said that as he parses your words line by line. Trust me, you have better ways to spend your time!