A Social Community Partnership in Ireland that terminated an employee for accessing porn at work was sued for unfair dismissal; however, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in Dublin upheld the decision of the company to terminate the employee, which was deemed to be the appropriate sanction under the circumstances.

The viewing of any pornographic material in the workplace is unacceptable, but for a Social Community Partnership that provides services to children and families, it is especially important to take action when employees access obscene material – In this case the webpages depicted rape, the abduction of girls, and non-consensual sex.

A statement released by the unnamed Social Community Partnership read, “[The worker’s] actions go against the grain of the organization, but has the potential to put at risk the company’s funding relationship with Government services.”

The accessing of inappropriate material was discovered during a review of the computers used by receptionists at the Partnership. That review revealed pornographic material had been accessed on a reception computer on seven occasions between September 30th and November 26th, 2015. The material was accessed between 1.28pm and 16.40pm, and while multiple employees had access to the computer, on three of the occasions, the terminated employee was the only member of staff working in the reception area.

Once that was confirmed in May 2016, the employee’s contract was terminated for gross misconduct. The employee appealed the decision internally, claiming the allegations were incorrect. She denied accessing porn at work and claimed she was not the only person to have access to the computer. Two other receptionists were employed at the firm and could have accessed the material. When the appeal was rejected, the employee sued the firm for unfair dismissal.

An independent IT consultant was brought in to conduct a scan of the computer to confirm that a malware infection was not present, which could theoretically have been responsible for the sites being accessed. The woman maintained there was no evidence against her and popups could have explained the accessing of the material. She also said other employees could have accessed the computers in the reception area, which did not require the use of secure passwords.

The WRC ruled that, on the balance of probability, the employee did access pornographic material, and the decision to terminate the employee was correct. The woman has been unable to find further work in the field, despite her 18 years’ experience, due to the nature of her dismissal.

Employees Accessing Porn at Work Is a Widespread Problem

The accessing of pornography at work is widespread, global problem – and one that acceptable Internet usage policies do not prevent.

A 2013 report from the UK government found computers in parliament were used to make an average of 800 visits to pornographic websites per day – more than 300,000 attempts were made over the period of study.

A 2014 survey by Proven Men Ministries found nearly two third of men (63%) and one third of women (36%) admitted accessing pornography at work, while a 2015 poll conducted by The Sun newspaper in the UK found 15% of women in the UK watch pornography at work.

In the United States, a Harris Poll in 2011 found 3% of Americans watch porn at work, with an earlier study by The Nielsen Company placing the figure at around 28%.

While there is some variation between the studies, it is clear that the accessing of pornography at work is a widespread problem, responsible for a significant loss of productivity, the creation of a hostile work environment, and many HR issues.

Companies Can Easily Avoid Pornography-Related HR Issues

Even though acceptable Internet usage policies are developed, and employees have to confirm that those policies have been read and understood, many employees still access porn at work. Some employees simply disregard those policies, others mistakenly believe they will not be found out.

For the company, accessing porn at work causes major HR issues. Complaints are often made by other employees who have caught a glimpse of the material, a hostile work environment can develop, HR departments have to take disciplinary action, and recruit and train replacement employees – all of which are a drain on productivity and result in many lost man hours.

As this case shows, these incidents can result in bad publicity, potentially loss of funding, and legal costs from fighting lawsuits.

However, all of these problems are easy to avoid. Companies can simply block adult website content with a web filter. A web filter allows firms to enforce acceptable Internet usage policies and prevent obscene or otherwise inappropriate material from being accessed by employees.

The Social Community Partnership would have been able to avoid all the bad publicity and paying to fight the unfair dismissal claim if a web filtering solution been put in place to enforce acceptable Internet usage policies.

If you have yet to start filtering the Internet, and are not blocking pornography and other inappropriate material from being accessed in the workplace, contact TitanHQ today and ask about WebTitan – The leading web filtering solution for enterprises.