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Porn in the Workplace: More Often Than We Know

Porn in the Workplace: More Often Than We Know

He sits in the next cubicle and downloads pornography. This grosses his co-worker out but the co-worker still has to work with him because the co-worker can’t Workplace, Productivity, HR risk blowing the whistle on him to the good old boy manager.

The IT manager lets management know two top performing sales agents visit sexually explicit websites on the lunch hour...and wants to know how management wants to handle the situation.

He’s a senior executive and the company can’t afford to lose him, but his marriage is on the rocks. The administrative assistant tells management she won’t touch his computer when asked to retrieve a document off his desktop because the last time she did she found pornography.

According to a recent Nielson study, 21 million Americans or 29 percent of working adults admit accessing adult websites on work computers. Further, 70 percent of all online pornography access occurs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Two out of three of 500 surveyed Human Resources professionals report they’ve found pornography on their employees’ computers.

What does this mean for managers and employees?

Any manager, who – like most -- allows employees to use the company’s Internet access, takes multiple risks they need to realize and protect against.

If a company employs those who view pornography, it creates a legal liability by allowing an offensive, sexually hostile work environment. Not only does the pornography itself create problems, but those who download it desensitize themselves in ways that may lead them to sexually harass others or violate other workplace boundaries.

In addition to legal problems, pornography erodes productivity and can destroy co-worker morale. Further, those accessing pornography sites risk letting viruses into the company’s network which can cause major damage. Additionally, improper end-user online behavior that involves the company domain name when the user connects online tarnishes the company’s image.

Do these risks mean managers need to monitor what their employees do with their Internet access? Perhaps – if managers can’t assure themselves they supervise only those with no potential interest in pornography.

Does monitoring invade employees’ privacy? No; employees don’t have the right to use company equipment for activities other than what they’re paid to do – though employers do need to create clear policies that let employees know they plan to monitor.

How? Use blocking software that identifies and blocks inappropriate or sexually explicit Web sites. This also helps inadvertent pornography viewers who simply downloaded a song or video, only to find it added accompanying malicious software that linked the user’s home page to pornography sites.

What if an employee sees a co-worker accessing pornography? The employee can immediately protest. Worried management may “kill the messenger”? The employee is protected from discipline or termination. Those who view pornography expose others to unwanted sexuality – which constitutes harassment. If an employee protests this, they’re protected against retaliation.

Finally, in the third situation above, the manager should ask the HR officer to investigate the senior executive’s computer to protect the work environment for the administrative assistant and others. The Court in the landmark Doe v. XYZ Corp lawsuit held that employers who fail to take appropriate action when learning employees use company computers to access pornography may be liable to non-employees injured by the misconduct.

Think pornography viewing couldn’t happen in a company? With 70 percent of all online pornography access occurring between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the company may simply not know.

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Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR and owner of the Alaska-based management consulting firm, The Growth Company Inc. consults with companies and individuals to create real solutions to real workplace challenges. Their services include HR On-call (a-la-carte HR), investigations, mediation, management/employee training, executive coaching, 360/employee reviews and organizational strategy services. You can reach Lynne @, via her workplace 911/411 blog, or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

  1. Great article but don’t forget about pornography distributed via company email. Most organisations already deploy web filtering software but few deploy email filters with pornographic image recognition (typically an additional add-on module) . In many ways email carries a higher risk as it is a communication platform that can be used to distribute inappropriate content.

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