A Social Community Partnership employee fired for viewing pornography at work took legal action against her employer for unfair dismissal. However, Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has upheld the Partnership’s decision to fire the employee, confirming the sanction was appropriate.
In May 2016, the employee was discovered to have viewed pornography on her work computer and was promptly fired for gross misconduct. While the employee denied viewing pornography at work, a review of access logs on her computer revealed pornographic websites had been accessed on seven occasions between September and November 2015.
The material accessed included depictions of rape and the abduction of girls. While viewing pornography at work is unacceptable in any office, the nature of the material that was accessed made this an egregious violation of the Partnership’s acceptable Internet usage policy, especially considering the Social Community Partnership works to support children and families.
Lack of Individual Logins Makes it Difficult to Attribute Inappropriate Internet Access to Individual Employees
The case was not clear cut, as the computers in the reception area where she worked did not require secure logins for each employee. The employee also denied that she had viewed pornography and claimed two other workers used the same computers. She also said that other employees could have used the computers when she was not at her desk.
To determine that the employee was the person responsible for violating the company’s acceptable Internet use policy, the Partnership had to compare Internet logs against the work schedule. Multiple employees were found to have been working on four of the seven occasions, but the employee was the only person scheduled to work in the reception area on three of the occasions when pornography was accessed.
The employee suggested the sites could have been popups, although the claim was rejected by her employer. To determine whether access was due to a malware infection, an external computer expert was called in to conduct a scan of the computer. The scan confirmed no malware was present that could have redirected the browser to pornographic websites.
After hearing the unfair dismissal case and the evidence against the employee, the WRC ruled that ‘on the balance of probability,’ the employee was the person responsible for accessing the material and that, under the circumstances, the decision to fire the employee was correct.
Two Thirds of Men and One Third of Women Admit to Viewing Pornography at Work
Even though viewing pornography at work is prohibited in many organizations, employees ignore company rules and access obscene material on their work computers. The actions often result in instant dismissal when they are discovered, although many employees believe they won’t be caught or do not realize Internet logs are maintained. Many choose to anonymize their Internet activity by connecting to the Internet via VPNs and other anonymizing services.
The scale of the problem has been identified by several surveys and studies. In one notable study, conducted by Proven Men Ministries in 2014, 63% of men and 36% of women admitted having accessed pornography at work on at least one occasion. Other studies in the United States and the UK have also confirmed viewing pornography at work is commonplace.
The viewing of pornography at work can cause many problems for employers. In this case, the Social Community Partnership could have lost essential government funding. Even though that didn’t happen, there has been considerable negative publicity and the expense of fighting an unfair dismissal claim.
When employees view pornography at work it can easily lead to the creation of a hostile working environment, lawsuits could be filed by other employees who have been made to feel uncomfortable by the actions of others, and when illegal pornographic material is accessed at work – child pornography for example – the consequences for employers can be severe.
How Can Businesses Prevent Employees Viewing Pornography at Work?
Acceptable Internet usage policies can be used to ensure employees who breach the rules can be fired, but they do not prevent employees viewing pornography at work. Cases such as this show just how important it is to implement technology to prevent employees from accessing inappropriate website content – not just pornography, but also other content that should not be accessed in the workplace.
The expense and problems experienced by the Social Community Partnership could have easily been avoided if a web filter had been used. A web filter is a simple method of enforcing acceptable Internet usage policies and preventing pornography and other unacceptable content from being accessed by employees. A web filter can also block the use of anonymizers such as VPNs.
Further, a web filter is easy to implement, inexpensive, and can help organizations prevent considerable productivity losses, while reducing legal liability.
To find out more about the benefits of web filtering, and how you can stop employees viewing pornography at work, contact the TitanHQ team today and ask about WebTitan.