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Will he get fired (God, I hope so)?
May 13, 2011 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Is printing pornography on your employer's printer on work time a fire-able offense?

I discovered a co-worker printing highly disturbing pornographic images on a networked computer at our office. Co-worker may or may not (I'm not sure) know that I know he's done this. I reported it to my supervisor and gave the supervisor one of the images. Supervisor had me talk with the Sexual Harassment office at our employer and they are investigating.

This is not the first time I've discovered this employee doing inappropriate things. Previously I found him watching pornographic videos on his work computer. He did not know that I saw him this first time. I reported it to my supervisor as well though did not speak the Sexual Harassment office and don't know if he was reprimanded for the first offense.

First, although it's clearly objectionable behavior, is it sexual harassment if he had no intention of being discovered? I'm not clear why the Sexual Harassment office is involved since I believe he had no desire to be found out.

Second, I don't know what, if anything was done about the first instance (the videos) but I have a feeling my supervisor didn't take any action at all which may have led to the co-worker's more recent behavior in so much as he may have received no disciplinary measures from the first instance or even knew that he'd been found out. Do I have cause to be concerned if the first instance didn't result in any action? I feel like if something had been done about the relatively mild first instance, maybe the second instance could have been avoided and I might not have been subject to the nightmares and anxiety that I've had since the second instance.

I would love if this co-worker were fired but I have no idea if that's even a possibility of if I'll have to keep working along with him. What might be the result of the sexual harassment investigation?

If it matters, this is in the U.S. I'm female, co-worker is male. We are peers in the organization.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
In most U.S. states, an employee can be fired for any reason or no reason, so long as the firing isn't because of race, gender, religion, or some other protected status. Watching porn at work is not a protected status.
posted by decathecting at 3:10 PM on May 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


Your coworker is creating a hostile, offensive work environment.
Your coworker is not working, and is misusing company time and resources.
Your employer is a fool if they don't act promptly.

Does your employer have an employee manual? Find it, read it. You should not have to deal with this.
posted by theora55 at 3:10 PM on May 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


Is printing pornography on your employer's printer on work time a fire-able offense?

Jesus, yes. All your other questions aside, that should in and of itself be grounds for gross misconduct. As to why you're being shuttled to sexual harassment, it's because his actions create (even if unintentionally) an environment that is hostile to women.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:11 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my office it is. but that is stated clearly in my office manual, check there for the rules that rule your work place, it should spell out what should have happened after the 1st instance.
posted by kanemano at 3:11 PM on May 13, 2011


As to why you're being shuttled to sexual harassment, it's because his actions create (even if unintentionally) an environment that is hostile to women.

Just wanted to point out that it doesn't matter what gender you are: watching and printing porn at work creates a work environment that's hostile to everybody. I'm a man and would be quite offended if people were printing porn at work.
posted by kdar at 3:13 PM on May 13, 2011 [23 favorites]


And yes, an act can be sexual harassment even if it's unintentional. The key factor is whether the behavior made someone else feel uncomfortable in a way that the law entitles them to be protected from, not whether the actor intended to cause those feelings. So, for example, if you tell a sexual joke at work and it makes someone uncomfortable, you may be disciplined for sexual harassment even if you just thought you were telling a harmless joke.
posted by decathecting at 3:13 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


You asked two distinct questions:

Is printing pornography on your employer's printer on work time a fire-able offense?
Unless he has tenure in a University, probably.

Will he get fired (God, I hope so)?
Who knows, but in today's sexual-harrassment-sensitive workplace, it's more likely than ever before.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:13 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bet you've been shuttled to SH so that they can begin (or continue) creating a paper trail so they can nail this guy.

And yes, what he's doing is very fire-able.
posted by elder18 at 3:19 PM on May 13, 2011


It's pretty likely he will be fired - if your workplace has a Sexual Harassment entity, it's got policies about this.

Do not be surprised, however, if it is weeks before it happens. A lot of places will have concerns about legal blow-back (your word against his is going to be the protest his lawyer makes, if he obtained one) and will probably document an offense to actually fire him for. It does not sound like this will be difficult.

Now, if he comes back with a documented compulsive disorder, it might be more complicated than that. Just do not say anything to anyone but your manager and HR.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:19 PM on May 13, 2011


Often issues of 'creating a hostile work environment' and other forms of harassment, whether it's obvious/direct harassment that isn't necessarily sexual in nature or sexual conduct at the office that isn't Sexual Harassment ™ (as in "Have Sex With Me Or You're Fired") gets lumped in with the sexual harassment sector of HR.

My company has a "sexual harassment seminar" once a year which covers topics much broader than just the quid pro quo sort of thing you're used to hearing about.
posted by Sara C. at 3:23 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you have done everything right - alerted your supervisor, contacted the Sexual Harassment office. Have you talked to HR?

If you're being subjected to these images at work and nobody is responding to your concerns, you might want to look into what your legal rights are. Sending pornography to a networked printer so that other staff find it could be considered sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

If nothing else...document, document, document. Keep a file of these incidents, who you talked to about it, and when. Send email follow-ups to create a 'paper trail' of conversations you had in which you expressed your concerns. If it comes time to decide whether or not to fire this guy (or pursue a case against him), the documentation will be invaluable.
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:24 PM on May 13, 2011


You're talking to the Sexual Harassment Officer because the company is worried you'll sue them for sexual harassment, especially if you had previously reported this guy and nothing was done.

He's going to get fired; your boss, if he in fact did not report your previous complaint, will be reprimanded or fired.

Officially, nothing will happen to you, but word will be get and people will be worried you'll sue. Getting rid of you in a way that would seem like retaliation for your complaint is a big liability, so that won't happen as long as you could prove it was retaliatory.

But colleagues are going to notice that your co-worker and maybe your boss are gone, and that (as you'll be instructed by HR) you refuse to say anything about it.
posted by orthogonality at 3:26 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who knows if he'll get fired now, but if they ever do want to fire him, I bet that this will come up as the perfect excuse.
posted by Neekee at 3:28 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


If nothing else...document, document, document. Keep a file of these incidents, who you talked to about it, and when. Send email follow-ups to create a 'paper trail' of conversations you had in which you expressed your concerns. If it comes time to decide whether or not to fire this guy (or pursue a case against him), the documentation will be invaluable.

They could also be invaluable in the event that some of the males in your workplace decide to retaliate against you for reporting him. It does happen, and it is also sexual harassment, and is a shining example of a hostile work environment. So, in addition to documenting the conversations you have about this, you should also probably document how people, especially males, especially bosses, treat you now, and after they hear about you reporting this guy. Hopefully your coworkers are all good folks, but just in case, it could become important to document their behavior.

And to all you out there, all of you should keep work journals, for reasons like this. Unfortunately, you never know when questionable activity is going to arise in your workplace, and how your coworkers and bosses are going to react to that. Also, you can just say its therapeutic if you need some excuse to convince yourself you're not creepy or paranoid for keeping a work journal for no apparent reason.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:57 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you speak again to HR or the Sexual Harassment folks, you need to make it clear that you are extremely offended and feel that his actions have created a hostile work environment. You don't have to overboard about it, just state that calmly and clearly. You also need to be very clear that this is the second time you've seen this behavior, and reported it to your supervisor the first time. How YOU feel about being exposed to this behavior does oftentimes dictate the consequences.
posted by raisingsand at 4:13 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did you tell the sexual harassment officer about the catching him watching porn earlier too? I understand you didn't at the time (because you told the supervisor) but did you tell them now that you've seen him doing things like this before?

Because really the sexual harassment officer needs to know that. They also need to know that a supervisor was told. Maybe the supervisor did talk to him and this dude is just an idiot but your company needs to know that the supervisor was told so they can look into the outcome of that incident as well.

Good lord, as an HR person who has participated in sexual harassment investigations before (we didn't have a separate office) this would really piss me off and he probably would have been fired the first time if I had known about it.
posted by magnetsphere at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2011


When you say that the images he was copying were disturbing, do you mean the porn was super violent? If so, I don't blame you for feeling traumatized.

Be warned, though: my family was put through the ringer when one of us made a claim against a coworker for just this, and it was crazy devastating because really, it was the employer's burden to bear, and they made my relative the point man for the whole thing even though she had just had enough of the sick perversion that this coworker was perpetually pushing at her. Be prepared to be deposed (and for the pain that comes with all legal quagmires) when this guy is sacked.
posted by patronuscharms at 4:55 PM on May 13, 2011


Is printing pornography on your employer's printer on work time a fire-able offense?

This... This is even a question?

It's a same day, frog-marched out the door and thrown to the curb offense. No joke.
posted by mhoye at 5:14 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Honestly, none of us can know if it's a fireable offense at your company. Some places give people way too much slack when they judge hostile work environments. However, it's a good sign that the SHO is now involved (it seems pretty clearly like a hostile work environment from our trainings), and I agree with others that you should be sure they know everything relevant, including that you're traumatized and that you reported him previously.
posted by ldthomps at 5:21 PM on May 13, 2011


>Your coworker is creating a hostile, offensive work environment.

This overstates it. Privately watching porn on a company computer, or discreetly printing images, does not of itself present a hostile work environment. It is offensive to many people, of course. What it does present is a serious risk to the employer that other employees will find it offensive enough to make a complaint or file a lawsuit. It is for this reason that most employers adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward such behavior.
posted by yclipse at 5:34 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


>Your coworker is creating a hostile, offensive work environment.

This overstates it.

This does not overstate it. I work for local government and in our EO training, we were taught that even kissing your spouse in the office can be considered sexual harassment--not because either spouse didn't want it, but because fellow workers probably don't want to see it.

In sexual harassment cases, the offender's intention does not matter; what matters is the way the action is received. Unless you work at a company that produces or studies porn, I can't imagine why looking at it and printing it at work would ever be considered anything but sexual harassment.
posted by johnofjack at 5:46 PM on May 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


This overstates it. Privately watching porn on a company computer, or discreetly printing images, does not of itself present a hostile work environment.

It does not overstate it. If a coworker can't get through work without watching (or printing) porn, being around that guy would make me really uncomfortable.

Seeing as that this is a big enough company to have a Sexual Harassment office and that it's a pattern with this guy, I'm sure they really are looking into it and it's just taking a while. Especially if the printed images were so disturbing they're giving you nightmares, and the guy was dumb enough to just leave these images sitting at the printer for anyone to find them. I don't think that's something HR would just blow off.
posted by wondermouse at 5:48 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


You may want to look into what the EEOC has to say about sexual harassment. Particularly relevant bits:

The Supreme Court ... held that the proper inquiry focuses on the "unwelcomeness" of the conduct rather than the "voluntariness" of the victim's participation....

Sexual harassment is "unwelcome . . . verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . . ."

and

The Eleventh Circuit provided a general definition of "unwelcome conduct" in Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d at 903: the challenged conduct must be unwelcome "in the sense that the employee did not solicit or incite it, and in the sense that the employee regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive."

IANAL, but to me what's happened here clearly falls under the definition of sexual harassment as provided by the EEOC.
posted by johnofjack at 5:58 PM on May 13, 2011


Privately watching porn on a company computer, or discreetly printing images, does not of itself present a hostile work environment.

Had the co-worker's behavior been either private or discreet, this question would not exist.
posted by escabeche at 6:35 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


"I would love if this co-worker were fired..."

I wonder what this is all about. It seems as though Not Doing It Again would be a suitable outcome. Is there more to the story?
posted by stubby phillips at 6:54 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


stubby phillips: " It seems as though Not Doing It Again would be a suitable outcome.

Not doing it again would not be a suitable outcome. Never having done it at all would be a suitable outcome, but since he did do it, being fired is the best outcome left.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:01 PM on May 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ok. Punishment it is. I was just wondering if there were a little more to the story. It seems so vindictive and maybe a little intrusive.

The OP said the pictures were so disturbing that this has caused her nightmares and apparently major anxiety. I imagine this isn't your average run-of-the-mill porn, which would still be a fire-able offense anyway.
posted by wondermouse at 7:15 PM on May 13, 2011


It is also theft, he is using the company paper and toner.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:18 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


What passes for "run-of-the-mill" porn these days could easily cause nightmares for those not already desensitized to it.
posted by gentian at 7:28 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The chain of events is significant as well. He was watching porn at work, she reported him; the action taken is unknown. After that, he printed more porn, and she reported him again. To continue to make this woman work with this man seems to me to be in an of itself a hostile work environment.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:33 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems as though Not Doing It Again would be a suitable outcome.

If I were the OP, I'd consider watching/printing porn at work a problem, but the larger issue is that there is something wrong with a person that thinks this is appropriate behavior. What kind of a creep can't wait until he's in the privacy of his own home before doing that? What else has he been up to that he just hasn't been caught at? How could I have any kind of working relationship with a man that I now have SERIOUS questions about? Just a promise to "Not Do It Again" would never be sufficient.
posted by coupdefoudre at 8:10 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hi. HR here.

You guys are doing a fine job jumping on porn-printer, so I have nothing to say about that.

What I do have something to say about is your supervisor.

You claim to have reported the employee's porn watching habits to the supervisor. Sure, you don't get to find out what happened between the supervisor and employee. But the fact that the employee is doing something even more brazen (networked printer that others have access to...not just his own terminal), leads me to believe that the supervisor did absolutely nothing in the first instance.

Thats really uncool. Its also against all sorts of internal rules (I'm assuming...probably correctly if you have a sexual harassment officer) to not deal with situation in which an employee could possibly feel uncomfortable because of *&$ stuff. Totally uncool...

You need to have a talk with HR about why this first incident wasn't dealt with properly. You have a careless supervisor; both yourself and the company need to recognize this. It opens you up to the possibility of a shitty workplace, and it opens the company up to all sorts of litigation.

If you REALLY are upset by the possibility of a hostile work environment, you need to report your supervisor. He is the real reason why this dude has moved up to printing porn now. That is, unless you just want to get this guy fired and will use your supervisor to that end.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:30 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Have you diarised the occasions you have reported this behaviour? If so you may have a claim against your employer.
posted by the noob at 1:49 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - please answer the question and don't turn this into a rant about America, thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2011


At my company, that would be grounds for immediate firing.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:59 AM on May 15, 2011


So this was my anonymous posting and I thought I'd offer an update.

They were able to prove that he was the one printing the pornography, he was confronted, and he acknowledged his behavior. I don't know exactly what the consequences have been but he's not being fired for now, I know that. He's on notice and will be monitored more closely to ensure he doesn't do it again but in the mean time, I'm still working with a guy that prints out full-color, up-close bestiality at work. Fantastic!

They've checked in with me a few times to see how I was doing and see what measures could make me more comfortable in the working environment but basically I just do everything I can to avoid any interaction. They tell me he's offered to apologize to me but I want nothing to do with the guy. It's pretty sucky and I wish he'd quit but I think he's holding out for the maximum pension. Bastard.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:56 AM on June 9, 2011


otherwordlyglow, I've been thinking about this since you posted it and wondering how that worked out, so thanks for the update. FWIW I'm stunned he wasn't fired and so sorry you're having to work in workplace where he is still employed.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:17 PM on June 9, 2011


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