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Viewing pornography at work is extremely common

The internet has been a boon to Minnesota businesses. But it has presented new and complex problems for employers such as when employees engage in online shopping, online dating and chatrooms. Another problem is erotica.

According to a 2010 Nielsen study, 29 percent of employees in this country watched pornography at least once at work at an average length of 13 minutes per viewing. A class-action lawsuit against a publicly-traded international company disclosed that a senior executive even hired an assistant to file his pornography.

The U.S. Environmental Agency caught a senior-level employee who watched online pornography for two to six hours every workday and had 7,000 erotica files on his EPA computer. In 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission discovered 33 employees who viewed pornography instead of doing their work. An employee at the Federal Communications Commission admitted to viewing pornography for eight hours per week because he was bored. A SEC senior attorney downloaded so much pornography that he ran out of hard-drive space and burned erotica on DVDs.

The federal government must follow an administrative process before these employees lose their jobs. Buta private company has more discretion. Still, companies should have policies in place that are uniform and provide notice that viewing pornography and other specified online behavior is prohibited and subject too serious discipline.

Taking proactive steps is also important because allowing the viewing of on-line pornography can also have other severe legal consequences. In a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit, plaintiffs will seek discovery of internet searches and employee emails.

Employers should seek legal assistance to implement policies and training to prevent abuse of the internet. Legal advice can help assure that employees are treated consistently and that their behavior is not used against the employer in other employment disputes.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Watching Porn at the Office: 'Extremely Common,'" Claire Suddath, Oct. 9, 2014

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