Dealing with pornography at work

Viewing or downloading pornography or sexually explicit material on work computers is a definite no-no at work. 

With the current furore surrounding allegations that Damian Green has downloaded pornography to his parliamentary computer, it may be a good time to remind employees what happens if they do decide to push the boundaries.

What types of workplace rules should I have in place?

Employers often let employees occasionally use work computers for personal use, especially at lunch or rest breaks. Other may have a designated computer in the workplace which employees can use to access personal emails, social networking websites, news sites, etc.

However, it is important to make clear in your policy concerning computers that the use of work computers, tablets or smartphones to access or download pornographic material is not acceptable and it may, depending on the circumstances, amount to gross misconduct. It is also advisable to make clear that the use of the company’s email system to send any messages or material that are pornographic in nature may also be treated as gross misconduct.

Employers will have a better chance of being able to defend any claim brought against them if they provide clear examples of acts which will be considered gross misconduct in their disciplinary policy.

You should also make it clear that employees should have no legitimate expectation of privacy when using their work email, internet or computer systems and must be aware that those systems are subject to monitoring. Employers should reserve the right to look at the contents of all incoming and outgoing emails and the history of the web pages browsed using work devices for the purposes of, for example, dealing with complaints raised from customers or to ensure that the employee is acting in accordance with company rules and policies.

Technology is always changing, therefore make sure to review your policies frequently so they remain robust and fit for purpose.

If you impose filter or block websites, it is important to take care to be not to be over-zealous. A website may contain a keyword that is considered ‘adult’ and this may impair day-to day work.

So what do you do if you catch one of your long-standing employees using their work computer to watch or download porn or sending pornographic emails to others? 

All of these behaviours are clear examples of misconduct and should be dealt with through your disciplinary process.

You will need to conduct a fair disciplinary process. You will need to undertake an investigation to establish the facts and invite them to a disciplinary hearing in writing. You should provide the employee with a reasonable opportunity to prepare for the meeting and give them copies of the evidence and witness statements. At the disciplinary hearing, you should allow them to be accompanied and give them the opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Download our Employer’s Definitive Guide to Misconduct and disciplinary procedures to find out more.

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James Tamm

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