HOW TO DEAL WITH EMPLOYEES WHO WATCH PORN AT WORK

The topic of watching porn isn’t something I relish talking about, however with the recent media attention on Damian Green and the pornographic images found on his work computer, I felt it was an important topic to discuss.  Equally, we have dealt with a number of cases on this topic, and it is always a challenging area to deal with.

So does it really happen at work?

For many of us, the very thought of accessing such material at work completely unthinkable.  However, unfortunately yes it does happen – and under many different guises.  From blatant office ‘banter’ forwarding indecent images around colleagues, to secret viewings – it all goes on. I was listening to an interview on LBC and it was being discussed that parliament computers made over 300,000 attempts to access pornographic websites.  So it would appear it is very common place in some organisations!

I have personally worked in an environment where it was considered normal to forward round pornographic images for ‘bants’, dealt with cases of employees watching porn at work, and heard complaints from individuals who have been deeply offended by their colleagues behaviour at work.

So it does happen.

What are the risks?

There are a number of risks for employers.  Firstly, it is a complete breach of most company IT policies.  Besides the offensive nature of what is being viewed, these porn sites are often completely riddled with viruses, malware and other nasties that you really don’t want on your business IT network.

There is a huge risk too that employees may raise complaints against their employer if a colleague is accessing offensive materials in their presence, or forwarding round inappropriate emails – you have a duty of care to provide your employees with a safe working environment, and such activity may leave people feeling upset, afraid and vulnerable.   It could also give rise to discrimination claims and even so far as constructive dismissal if you failed to address a concern and an employee felt they could no longer work for you.

So it is a very serious matter.

What are the challenges?

Blurred lines is a major issue here.  We live in a world where there is very little distinction now between our work and home lives.  With smartphones and tablets, laptops and other tech, we are constantly ‘plugged in’ whether this be to work at home or vice versa.  So some employees can’t distinguish the difference between a quick look at a website on their personal mobile phone vs doing the same on their work mobile.  

Equally, if you aren’t regularly monitoring the content of your employees web and email activity how would you know?

We dealt with a case a few years ago now, where an employer was blissfully unaware of their employee’s internet activities until their IT company flagged an issue.  Turns out their employee was frequenting some VERY offensive sites during work times.  

The other thing to consider too is that catching an employee watching porn at work can have pretty life changing consequences for them – how do they explain their dismissal to their partner?  So following a fair process for investigation is critical – you can’t afford to get this wrong.

So it is a VERY complex and sensitive matter to deal with!

So what can you do about it?

You know what I am going to say don’t you….but having policies in place to cover issues such as this will really help you should a matter arise, but here are some other tips:

  1. Make sure you have a comprehensive IT and Internet policy in place that is clear on what is/isn’t acceptable use
  2. Make sure your contracts and policies state that you have the right to monitor employee internet/email activity
  3. Make sure employees are aware of these policies and have understood what they mean
  4. Make sure employees are 100% clear that you will monitor their use
  5. Make sure you include this as part of your induction process with new employees
  6. Speak with your IT provider and ask them to carry out regular checks and flag any issues to you
  7. Deal with any complaints/concerns seriously and swiftly
  8. Don’t assume that employees know what is / isn’t acceptable – education is key

If you have a situation like this in your business, or need help getting the policies together then let us know! We can also provide training to employees on this and other policy matters.