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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why we should put filters on our work computers

I work for a small family-run company. Upper management is all related, middle management and lower is not. The owner is a porn addict. One of my employees, "Lisa", complained about his porn within her view on occasion and said she was offended. I tried several methods to resolve this issue without direct confrontation as I found out that another employee in the past was conveniently terminated shortly after voicing her complaint.

That said, the end result was that I had to move Lisa to another area. It was not a punishment by any means (the work environment is much nicer in my opinion) but she now complains that she was not happy about why she had to be moved. Since the move, she disclosed to me that she has a mental illness. She also has made several statements about how she doesn't have any money and she seems to be a chronic complainer. The quality of her work has declined since her move and I get the feeling that she feels that she can do whatever she wants because she knows the "boss' dirty little secret". I do believe that if she were terminated that she would pursue a lawsuit for sexual harassment or whatever else she could come up with. She does enough to get by although she is definitely slacking more than normal.

The family is not aware of his porn problem although it turns out almost all of the non-familial employees do. Since I have resolved the situation to the point where she is no longer exposed to the harassment conditions, do I have anything to worry about or can I move forward with the issue with her non-performance? Should I just let her performance go if it makes the basic standards? If I let the necessary management/family members aware of his porn problem then it is almost guaranteed that I will lose my job.

Do you have any advice for me?

Help!


PS This is the second small company I have worked for where I have faced this problem of an owner viewing porn in front of employees. Unbelievable!


Okey-dokey. And why don't we have filters on our servers? I know they aren't fool proof, but they sure do make it easier. (Yes, I know the answer to this, the owner is the porn viewer.)

You have reason to believe that someone was fired for complaining about the owner's viewing habits. You also have reason to believe that you will be terminated if you complain. Interestingly enough, Lisa has the opposite view--I know the owner is viewing porn so my job is safe. Because it is, from you, because you don't want to lose your job.

Puts you in an interesting situation, doesn't it?

Porn viewing in the office can definitely lead to sexual harassment cases and the owner is putting his business at risk by doing so. The fact that the last person who complained about it was fired and didn't sue probably makes him feel invincible. You know, the whole "It's my company and I'll do what I want!" mentality.

You say the family members don't know about the porn problem. I bet that is not true. They just don't want to deal with it. Not only is this man their father/brother/husband, he's their boss. Talk about a classic example of why family owned businesses have a tendency to fall apart.

Your first step is you need to make your boss aware of the situation, even if your boss is the owner's wife. There are real potential consequences to his behavior. You, personally, need to be able to document that you have done everything in your power to end the porn problem in the office. Go to www.eeoc.gov and learn about the potential consequences to the business. Here's a little quote to present:

The court held that the proliferation of pornography and demeaning comments, if sufficiently continuous and pervasive "may be found to create an atmosphere in which women are viewed as men's sexual playthings rather than as their equal coworkers.


I realize you think you'll be terminated for bringing this up. You, yourself, would be able to file a sexual harassment charge in that case. So could everyone else that is aware of this. You, as a manager, whose only action was to move the complaining employee, are demonstrating that the company isn't committed to a workplace free of sexual harassment. Seriously. This could become a bigger problem for you if you don't tell.

If I were you, I'd go contact your local EEOC office first, and ask for advice. Have them document that you are afraid you'll be terminated for bringing up the problem. Then, go to your boss. Explain the situation, including the person who was terminated before. Say that you expect that this will be taken care of or you'll proceed to file a lawsuit.

You don't say, but I'm guessing you're male, so they probably think you can't complain about porn. Not true. It's obviously affecting your ability to perform your job.

After all this is done, go to Lisa and have a discussion about her work. If she has true mental health problems and your business is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act, work with her to develop an appropriate plan. If it's not, work with her to develop an appropriate plan anyway. Explain that you expect high performance from her.

If she brings up the whole issue with the owner, tell her that you have escalated the issue and that she is free to approach the EEOC as well. Point out that you have removed her from the situation as well, so there should be no ongoing problem. This, of course, doesn't prevent the prevailing overall atmosphere of women as objects.

Now, normally, I would tell you to just go straight to the offender before you go to the EEOC, but he's already demonstrated that he's not interested in changing and is interested in retaliation. (Note to my readers--he gave me some additional info that he asked me not to share, as it increases the risk of identification. Just trust me on this one that the boss will retaliate.)

No matter what, you want to start looking for a new job. This company is messed up and it's doubtful this will solve the problem. If you are fired for this, you can definitely sue and will probably win but that can take years and years and what a pain. Your boss needs to be made painfully aware that this habit is costing the company good employees and has potential to cost it a lot of money as well.

Now, with the number of times I've used the word "porn" I fear for the comments. Oy.

8 comments:

Ask a Manager said...

In addition to being guilty of harassment, the company is also guilty of retaliation -- for firing an employee for making a legitimate harassment complaint, and for making others feel that they too would be fired for speaking up.

Retaliation in this situation is actually illegal itself, on top of the harassment.

I wonder if the other family members understand the law on harassment and retaliation, and if they understand what the boss has exposed the company to. (Exposed! ha ha ha)

Anonymous said...

Moving an employee who complains about porn to an area they perceive as less desirable can also be considered retaliation.

human said...

What is this person supposed to say when they look for a new job and are asked why they are leaving/left the company?

"I sued them for sexual harassment"? And then they will never get a job again... how would you advise the writer to deal with that issue?

Anonymous said...

Agree with your advice - just one question - why would you assume that the letter-writer is male? I didn't read anything into the letter that would indicate this was the case. (I'm female, BTW.)

Evil HR Lady said...

Anon--I assumed the writer was male because the writer didn't state that he/she felt sexually harassed. My guess is that a woman would have put that into the letter as well.

I could be wrong--it was just an assumption. The writer is being harassed though, regardless of gender.

Michelle said...

One additional question I would have is has the writter conducted an investigation? Just because the employee(s) complained that the boss was viewing porn at work does not make it so. Do you have evidence? Someone should look at his computer history to validate the claim.

Other than that, I agree that you need to raise this issue and look for a new job ASAP.

Anonymous said...

The assumption in EHRL's reply and the comments seems to be that the digital content is not a police matter (i.e. no minors?) If it is, that's a whole different story.

Olivia said...

One possible way to address this in a slightly-less confrontational way would be to do exactly what EHRL mentions in the title - make a petition to put in filters on computer systems.
In the pitch for this, have several slides about the workplace "dangers" of porn - harassment and retaliation lawsuits, low employee morale, lost work time, possible criminal problems, etc.
If you can make this presentation to the whole board, (family) then you might be able to get it pushed through - particularly if the family DOES know about porn issue.
This could be an end-run to try before going to the EEOC, which I agree is suicide at least as far as employment with THIS company is concerned. Still, if there are other reasons that you really like this job and would like to stay, this could be something to try before taking EHRL's excellent advice. It also shows that you are attempting to deal with the issue, if there's ever a lawsuit from one of the other employees.