An e-mail row between an executive and a secretary at a London law firm over a £4 dry cleaning bill has made its way around rival firms.
The e-mail exchange made its way around rival firms
Baker & McKenzie's Richard Phillips e-mailed Jenny Amner implying she had spilt tomato ketchup on his trousers and asking her to foot the bill.
She apologised for her late reply a week later, blaming the "more pressing issue" of her mother's death.
The firm said the "private matter" had "clearly got out of hand".
After Mr Phillips' e-mail of 25 May asking for the cash, Ms Amner replied on 3 June: "With reference to the e-mail below, I must apologise for not getting back to you straight away but due to my mother's sudden illness, death and funeral I have had more pressing issues than your £4.
I apologise again for accidentally getting a few splashes of ketchup on your trousers
"I apologise again for accidentally getting a few splashes of ketchup on your trousers.
"Obviously your financial need as a senior associate is greater than mine as a mere secretary."
She had told partners, lawyers and trainees about his e-mail and they had offered to "do a collection" to raise the £4, she added in her e-mail.
"I, however, declined their kind offer but should you feel the urgent need for £4 it will be on my desk this afternoon," she wrote.
The exchange has been forwarded across the legal community with some people adding comments questioning Mr Phillips' generosity.
In a statement, Baker & McKenzie confirmed it was aware of the exchange.
"We are investigating so as to resolve it as amicably as we can," it said.
"We respect the privacy of our staff and make it a policy not to comment on individuals to the media."
Commercial anthropologist Dr Simon Roberts, research director of Ideas Bazaar consultancy, said he thought Mr Phillips had chosen to e-mail the request for the money, partly because email had become the "de facto messaging medium" in business.
"Also, we find it easy to use e-mail to say things we would feel a bit uncomfortable saying in person because we feel more distant from the interaction."
However, Mr Phillips may be regretting starting the exchange by e-mail because "e-mails have a long memory", he added.