Reading, UK – January, 2012 Pornography in the Workplace is a popular subject for press articles typically offering an opportunity for an attention grabbing headline and raising sniggers and moral outrage in equal measure from readers. However behind the the headline there is always a story which has both an employee and business reputation cost.
In any article on this subject the companies name typically precedes the more lurid details. In the case of BAE, a respected hi tech manufacturing company the headline in the North West Evening Mail read “BAE Raunchy Pics scandal” (1) In this case seven employees, who were team leaders, were escorted from the work premises and suspended over the use of email to distribute pictures of topless women. Interestingly according to the article the emails were not only distributed internally but”sent to to hundreds of people both within BAE and external to the shipyard”It is to be assumed that each email sent externally bore a disclaimer which considering the content bore a damaging association to BAE. This article illustrates that there is a clear business reputation cost to BAE from adverse publicity and potential loss of confidence in a security related industry, the company also lost the services of the seven valuable team leaders for the duration of their suspension.
In Australia recently an article in The Age had the headline “Women ‘bullied, degraded’ at air-traffic centre” (2). The article went on to describe how the Air Traffic Control service (ASA) based in Melbourne was alleged to have a “rampant culture of pornogaphy”. The woman at the centre of the story damagingly claimed “ASA had a workplace culture hostile to women that permitted bullying and discrimination by management”and also that management were aware of pornographic emails being sent but took no action. Here again behind the lurid headline there is clear reputation damage and cost to a respected and vital organisation in the ASA and clear distress suffered by one of its employees with a legal case pending.
In the midst of probably the most severe global recession ever many countries are being forced to make unprecented cuts to public sector services. Incredibly at this time of austerity some of these publicly funded bodies are still experiencing embarrassing headlines and adverse publicity and the human cost of workers losing jobs over porn in the workplace. “Porn, gambling, inciting violence and vulgar language: What police officers and civil servants have been getting up to online”(3) the headline and associated article cover the inappropriate use of social networking sites which have seen two police officers sacked, seven others quitting their jobs and 150 discplined over inappropriate online photos and comments. According to the article workers at the Department of Work and Pensions, Department of Health and Department of Transport have also faced sanctions for their online activity at work. This is a further example of publicly funded institutions not only receiving adverse publicity but also of employees endangering their own livelyhoods through misuse of corporate communication systems.
All of the above cases would have been positively impacted and associated human and business reputation costs reduced if there had been a clear and enforced policy of education in place relating to pornography in the workplace. As a head of an employment law department said in the BAE case
“Employers are entitled to implement formal IT policies if they feel it appropriate. IT policies are often drafted so as to protect and promote IT security, but most will also deal with “acceptable use” of email and internet by staff.
“At its most basic, the average acceptable use policy will forbid excessive use of email and internet for private or non-related work purposes and will usually place a complete bar on using the system for accessing social networking sites or for downloading or circulating material which is offensive or discriminatory.
“Pornographic material – including relatively mild material which perhaps belongs more on Page 3 than on the top shelf – will usually be caught by any such policy.”
Whilst technology solutions will never offer a complete answer they can help educate users and assist in protecting themselves from their own behaviour whilst a work. In this technologically advanced age, with sophisticated communication systems and readily available affordable solutions designed to scan images and videos and highlight those of a pornographic nature it is hoped that stories like those above and their associated human and company costs will one day be consigned to the past.