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Ask HR: How Can I Teach Someone E-Mail Etiquette?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

I'm a new manager for an employee who has just entered the workforce. She is hardworking, but her e-mails sometimes lack etiquette. Punctuation and spelling are often incorrect, and the tone isn't always appropriate for a workplace setting. How do I have this conversation? Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I see this as a learning opportunity. One for you, as a people manager, and one for your direct report, as someone who is new to the workplace.

As a first step, I recommend setting up a recurring one-on-one meeting with your employee if you don't already have one. This not only helps you stay connected and on the same page, but also provides a safe, open space to discuss expectations. 

During your conversations, rather than flag mistakes, take the opportunity to share company protocol, communication expectations and even some Office Etiquette 101.

These conversations should be dialogues, not monologues. As a people manager, you should offer guidance and feedback, but also leave room for your employee to ask questions and address her concerns.

You mention this employee is new to the workplace. Learning the ins and outs of office protocol, including e-mail etiquette, is important, but it's rare this happens overnight. Consider pairing her with a workplace buddy—a seasoned member of the team who can show her the ropes and answer any questions she may have as she adjusts to a new office environment and a new role.

I also encourage you to connect with your HR team and see if your organization offers any professional development opportunities. If so, there may be a few business writing courses that can help the employee gain more familiarity with professional tone and format. It may also be helpful to show some examples of professional and effective e-mails you have written to better set expectations.

Remember, constructive feedback is critical in building productive, supportive relationships with your team. Best of luck!


I'm searching for a new job. I am a hard worker and feel that I am highly qualified. However, I have a chronic illness that forces me to stay home occasionally. I don't want to mention this during my interview, but should I? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: The answer is in your question: You're under no obligation to disclose a medical condition during a job interview. That said, I understand your desire to be transparent with potential employers.

I'll start by sharing that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it's illegal for employers to discriminate against a person based on a disability, or even a perception of a disability.  

However, before you apply to a position, I suggest you do a little research into the company and study the job description. Often, job descriptions will provide details about physical requirements and whether remote work is acceptable. If it's clear the accommodations you need aren't possible, this might not be the best fit for you.   

If you do decide to disclose your condition during the interview, you'll want to be prepared. Can you discuss how you can successfully work from home? Are there accommodations you would need at home or at work to support you?

Once you're hired, you can start the conversation with your employer about specific accommodations you may need. Your manager may request medical certification to provide guidance and verification of an illness, injury or disability. If covered under the ADA (employers must comply with the ADA if they have 15 or more employees), your future employer is obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation, provided it does not pose an undue hardship for the business.

At the end of the day, disclosing your medical condition during a job interview is a personal choice. If you believe you will need a reasonable accommodation if hired, you may feel compelled to disclose your chronic illness or disability. Conversely, you can choose to wait until you have the job offer in hand. Know that you would be well within your right to do either.

Best of luck to you!