Bill Would Ban Porn at Work

Employees continue to access pornography—even from smart devices

By Aliah D. Wright Mar 30, 2015
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You’d think by 2015 more people would know better than to look at pornography at work—even on their own devices.

They don’t.

According to a recent survey of 2,000 British workers, 21 percent had accessed adult websites or pornography on the personal devices they used for work. What’s more, British telecom company elitetele.com reported that 25 percent of respondents said they didn’t know visiting such sites on the device could cause that device to be infected by malware, compromising sensitive work data.

Earlier this month, three British judges were fired after it was revealed that they had watched pornographic material on office computers, NBC News reported.

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

In the United States, viewing pornography at work is still so common that a U.S. House of Representatives committee on March 25, 2015, passed the Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act. The act prohibits federal employees from watching or accessing pornographic or explicit material on government devices—unless their job is to catch people doing so.

The act was proposed by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., in 2014 after a government investigation revealed that “one Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee was viewing as much as six hours of pornography a day in his office on his government computer,” Meadows stated on his website. “The same federal employee was found to have downloaded as many as 7,000 pornographic files onto his government computer. To date, this employee has yet to be fired and we continue to learn of similar bad actors.

“Over the last several months,” he added, “it has become far too obvious that the type of behavior that was first highlighted at the EPA has been discovered over and over again, across a host of agencies.

“To ignore this issue would not only condone an abuse of taxpayers’ dollars, but also embrace an unhealthy workplace,” Meadows said. He said the House committee vote “should send a clear message that it is time for zero tolerance of this kind of behavior.”

What Should HR Do?

HR should recognize that “the problem is being compounded by the invasion of personal technology brought into the workplace, the blurred demarcation between our use of technology at work and at home, and our addiction to technology, which now permeates our lives and thoughts whether we’re at home and, more importantly, at work,” said Brian D. Kelley, an adjunct professor in the department of political science at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, in an interview with SHRM Online.

Billi Caine, a British-based porn addiction specialist, told SHRM Online via e-mail, “HR can do very little outside of getting clued up as to the signs of porn addiction,” such as exhaustion, inability to focus, loss of creativity, mood swings and repeated trips to the bathroom.

HR professionals should recognize, too, that this kind of behavior negatively impacts the workplace by creating a “sexually inappropriate dynamic at work, [and] distracts the viewers during their work, so it hurts the business,” Steve Albrecht, a consultant who teaches workplace violence prevention, told SHRM Online. “It [also] suggests an addictive issue because the employees often know they are putting their jobs at risk with the behavior.”

Involve IT Early

“HR professionals need to take an active role with IT managers in their organizations to implement strong acceptable-use technology policies and training programs for employees,” Kelley said. “There also has to be a Web-filtering technology deployed to prevent employees from browsing nonwork-related sites related to pornography, gambling, games and the online activity deemed not to be work-related,” he added.

Most Web-filtering technology includes monitoring and reporting capability as a means by which employee compliance and noncompliance can be verified and documented, he said.

But that may not always work, especially for those using their own devices.

“Unfortunately, employees have a poor track record of compliance with acceptable-use technology policies when policies alone are implemented to thwart the misuse of IT resources in the organization,” Kelley said.

In a study by research firm Gartner Inc. a quarter of business users admitted to having had a security issue with their private devices they used for work in 2013, but only 27 percent of those respondents felt obliged to report this to their employer.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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