Even ‘Secondhand’ porn can create an illegally hostile environment — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Even ‘Secondhand’ porn can create an illegally hostile environment

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Most porn-related hostile environment cases stem from employees openly displaying photos on their workplace walls or on their computers in heavily trafficked areas.

But take note: Even subtle uses of pornography in the workplace can spark expensive, reputation-draining lawsuits. As the court in this case said, “the mere presence of pornography in a workplace can alter the ‘status’ of women,” and may be objective proof of a hostile environment.

Bottom line: Establish and enforce a total ban on pornography of any kind in the workplace-not on office computers, on videotapes or DVDs, in e-mails or anywhere else.

Recent case: Eleanora Patane served as the secretary for a Fordham University classics professor. She claims the professor regularly viewed pornographic films in his office, which she could partially view through a shaded glass partition.

Plus, she opened the packages containing the films he mail-ordered to the office, and she once discovered that someone had visited porn sites on her computer. 

Patane complained, but nothing came of it. Finally, she sued, alleging a sexually hostile environment. A lower court  dismissed the case, but the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it and sent the case to trial. (Patane v. Clark, et al., No. 06- 3446, 2nd Cir., 2007)

Advice: If your handbook doesn’t already include a ban on pornography at work, revise the rules so that it’s clear. That will give you an easy way to punish less-obvious transgressors and show you are serious.

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