ST. PAUL (AP) -- One Washington County employee got a written reprimand for an e-mail of a harmless photo of a friend's child. A crass e-mailed cartoon involving a camel led to a written reprimand for another county worker.
And an information technology analyst was demoted and suspended without pay for a month. The county found he received and distributed scores of e-mails with offensive pictures, offensive language and off-color jokes.
They were among 31 county employees who faced discipline for allegedly violating policies about e-mail use and a respectful workplace -- information that came to light after the St. Paul Pioneer Press requested the disciplinary data.
The county's investigation, which followed one employee's complaint about offensive material on another's computer screen, shows that the county didn't take the complaint lightly, the newspaper reported Monday. But it also shows that Washington County's policy on computer use can cut a wide swath.
It's not always enough, for example, simply to delete e-mail that's not work-related. Several employees were told they must hit reply and tell senders to stop e-mailing them at work, even when it was just innocuous e-mail about recipes and pets.
People who spent too much time on personal Internet or e-mail use were written up for stealing county property and intentionally falsifying a timecard -- the time they spent doing personal things on the clock.
The harshest penalties often were linked to violations of the county's respectful-workplace policy, which bars violent, offensive or discriminatory actions.
The electronic trail started with one person whose e-mail accounts were examined. Those led investigators to about 35 employees and accounts in three departments. The county has concluded cases against 11 employees; 20 more are pending, officials said.
"The number of people involved is the largest number that I'm aware of having been identified in any (internal county) investigation," County Administrator Jim Schug said.
Five of the first 11 employees have resigned. Four were suspended for at least one day. Four received written reprimands. One received a verbal reprimand.
There was no sign of criminal activity, said Jay Brunner, first assistant county attorney. Cost estimates weren't available, but the investigation did take hundreds of hours of staff time, he said.
The county also is revising its acceptable use policy to reduce the jargon and define violations more clearly, he said.
In a typical year, only a handful of Washington County's 1,200 full- or part-time employees would be disciplined, said Judy Honmyhr, director of human resources. A 30-day suspension is "very significant" and only happens about once a year. A daylong suspension may happen six to eight times a year, she said.
"Most of these people are really good people, good employees, who made a mistake," she said.
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