• LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+

What are our obligations to prevent employees from accessing Internet porn at work?

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Q. All of our employees have Internet access at their workstations. We have heard rumors that several employees have been visiting pornographic and other inappropriate web sites, and displaying and disseminating objectionable material to others in the workplace. Even though we have not received a formal complaint, do we have an obligation to address this now? What steps can we take to avoid these problems?

A. Although the Internet is a valuable business tool, it may also create a workplace distraction and expose an employer to liability.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers are prohibited from engaging in discrimination or harassment based on an employee’s race, color, national origin, religion or sex. When employees flaunt or disseminate sexually objectionable material (or objectionable material concerning a particular race, color, religion or national origin) obtained on the Internet, they can contribute to a hostile work environment, which may violate Title VII.

In general, a company will be liable for employee harassment only if it knew or should have known of the misconduct and failed to take remedial steps. The fact that you are aware of “rumors” about this type of activity probably creates the requisite knowledge, so you could be exposing the company to liability if you fail to remedy the situation.

There are several steps you can take to address this issue. First, attempt to identify the employees who are causing the disruptions. Discipline them in accordance with your policies.

Second, take this opportunity to reacquaint your employees with the company’s anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure.

Finally, if you have not already done so, expand the scope of your anti-harassment policy to prohibit harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability and age.

To prevent similar problems from arising in the future, monitor your employees’ Internet usage. As with any employee monitoring system, you need to inform workers that their use of the Internet during work hours and on company computers may be monitored. This should eliminate any expectation of privacy and will reduce your exposure to an invasion-of-privacy claim.

Finally, as with all your workplace policies, you should require all employees to sign an acknowledgment that they have read and understand the provisions of this new policy.

Leave a Comment