Goes without saying, but say it anyway: No porn at work

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

You would think it’s common sense, but apparently it’s not. While viewing pornography may be perfectly legal in one’s home (with some exceptions, such as that containing images of children), such viewing has absolutely no place at work.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over New York employers, consistently has ruled “the mere presence of pornography in a workplace can alter the ‘status’ of women,” and may be objective proof of a hostile environment. Therefore, there should be no 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.

Finally, after returning to work after a weekend she knew the professor worked, she discovered that someone had visited pornographic web sites on her computer.

She called the IT department, which removed the material and gave her a password so that no one else could use her computer. Patane complained, but nothing came of it.

Finally, she sued, alleging a sexually hostile environment. The trial court dismissed the case, but the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it. The appeals court concluded she deserved a 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 transgressors and show you are serious about protecting women from needless sexual harassment and degradation.

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