He's watching porn. At work.
July 6, 2006 6:48 AM   Subscribe

OMFG. He's watching porn at work. What do I do now?

So I'm wrapping up a status meeting with a female coworker when I notice another male coworker watching a movie on his desktop. I'm about 20 feet away, but I recognize a disproportionate amount of flesh tones. Squinting for focus, I realize he's silently watching hardcore porno. And he's watching it, this is not an accidental mouse click on NSFW material; he's checking his over shoulder for onlookers, but has completely missed that we're occupying the meeting room and have a clear line of sight to his monitor.

I'm stunned. I lose my train of thought and abruptly end the meeting. My female coworker has her back to him the whole time and never notices. I'm kicking myself for not pointing it out at the time, but all I remember thinking was, "Please, dear God, don't turn around."

The office is a tiny start-up, there's no HR department to speak of, and I have zero day-to-day interaction with Johnny Porno (who ostensibly has a small amount of seniority on me.) But I also think this is wildly inappropriate. My first inclination was to send him an anonymous email suggesting he be more discrete. My second inclination was to quietly tell my female coworker, partly as a reason for my dumb-struck meeting ending and partly for my own sanity.

Is that a reasonable response or should this go straight to the top? How have you dealt with the porno-watching coworker in your life?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (153 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always considered watching porn at work to be sexual harassment. I recommend going straight to his superior. That person should deal with it without bringing your name into it.
posted by dsword at 7:02 AM on July 6, 2006


Maybe I'm in the minority, but I probably wouldn't do a thing. You don't even really work with the guy, right? If his porn-watching begins to interfere with his work, his boss will deal with it. If he comes over to your PC and fires up some porn, then say something for sure. Otherwise, my inclination would be to laugh and let it go.

At least you handled it discreetly, though. My first reaction might have been to say "OMG, is that what I think it is?" and have everyone turn around to confirm.
posted by boomchicka at 7:11 AM on July 6, 2006


Me, I'd just go to him in private and say "Hey, I noticed you watching porn the other day—you were clearly visible from the meeting room. Better cool it." But then I'm a big fan of personal rather than administrative solutions to problems that are not institutional and ongoing. I also don't think porn is OMFG THE END OF THE WORLD, so discount as appropriate.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on July 6, 2006


Exactly what languagehat said.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:14 AM on July 6, 2006


If not sexual harrassment, then at least really gross and offensive. It's not like you saw him playing Bejeweled or something and don't want to bust him for a small infraction. It's porn in the office. I'd say something to Johnny Porno's supervisor. It's kind of beyond the pale.

It's not that it's porn. It's that it's at the office. In plain view. It's creepy and would make even porn-positive female coworkers really uncomfortable. (I'm assuming this is straight porn here.)

If you don't want to be that guy who goes to the supervisor, at least mention something to the guy, like languagehat suggested.
posted by SoftRain at 7:16 AM on July 6, 2006


I'm with the above two. It's not the end of the world, but it is completely inappropriate for the workplace. I think scaring him a little might encourage him to take his porno watching home with him at the end of the day. If he continues to feel like the office is a good venue for porno flicks, then I'd take it higher up.
posted by GilloD at 7:18 AM on July 6, 2006


On preview, I appear to be in the minority, but here goes:

His video choice did interfere with work - your work. You were so unnerved by it, you killed a meeting on the spot.

Plus, you've got to wonder about the judgment of anyone who actually thinks, "yeah, my cube is a good place to kick back and get wild."

Go to your boss. Turn him in. At the very least, he deserves a visit to the woodshed.
posted by baltimore at 7:18 AM on July 6, 2006


I agree with baltimore. If you have to be told not to watch porn at work, then you are probably ready for a harsher reminder. Plus, the OP seems to have been unnerved by it. She should not be the one who has to tell him face-to-face.
posted by Alison at 7:23 AM on July 6, 2006


It's sexual harassment in any court of law. Take it to his boss, and if his boss doesn't do anything, take to THE boss.
posted by Merdryn at 7:24 AM on July 6, 2006


"I've always considered watching porn at work to be sexual harassment"

That statement is completely retarded. Maybe if he were insisting that you watch it, or making comments about it to you, but as far as he knew nobody else was watching.

Does it really, really, really offend you? If so, tell him or send him an anonymous email. Don't bring his boss into this, you could seriously fuck up his job situation and unless you're incredibly mean spirited there's no reason to do that. Even if it doesn't offend you it might be a good idea to tell him, just to be, you know, nice.
posted by borkingchikapa at 7:25 AM on July 6, 2006


It might be sexual harassment in a court, but that doesn't mean you have to make it into an issue unless you believe that the government is right about everything.
posted by borkingchikapa at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2006


I'm with baltimore. I'd also say it's not your responsibility to have to talk to him about this, and you shouldn't put yourself in the position of having to confront him directly, not on a matter of this nature, especially if he's even technically at a higher level than you. That's the responsibility of his superior(s). Go to them and let them deal with it.
posted by edd at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2006


I realize that there is nothing in the post saying whether the OP is male or female. My apologies if I got it wrong.
posted by Alison at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2006


This happened at my work. The guy in the cubicle behind me. When management found out, he was immediately fired. As in, "We'll stand here and wait for you to clean out your desk and then we'll walk you to the door" kind of fired.

Unacceptable. And I don't think anyone could appreciate an employee who is that stupid about risk-taking - what are these people thinking?
posted by agregoli at 7:30 AM on July 6, 2006


And:

Don't bring his boss into this, you could seriously fuck up his job situation and unless you're incredibly mean spirited there's no reason to do that.

HE fucked up his job situation. HE is the one who decided to do something entirely stupid and wrong at work. HE is responsible if he gets fired.

You don't have to be mean spirited to not want your coworkers to be watching porn next to you, geez.
posted by agregoli at 7:32 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Maybe if he were insisting that you watch it, or making comments about it to you, but as far as he knew nobody else was watching.

First of all, obviously the "as far as he knew" clearly wasn't good enough. Incompetence is not an excuse. You do have to wonder what posseses people to watch it at work, whether maybe he wanted to be caught by a female coworker... knew he was caught.... etc.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:34 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Unless it's the business you're in it almost certainly has no business in the office, but at this point unless you feel you've been harassed yourself I wouldn't take it to the boss unless you feel he should be fired right now, because that's what might happen. If you do feel hurt or offended by this then you absolutely should talk to him, to a manager, or to HR, as you think best. But no matter what, someone definitely needs to tell this guy that this is the kind of hobby to pursue in private.
posted by Songdog at 7:34 AM on July 6, 2006


His video choice did interfere with work - your work. You were so unnerved by it, you killed a meeting on the spot.

So if I'm unnerved by my coworker's strange manner of dressing, walking, or emphasizing syllables, so unnerved that it interferes with my work, my best choice is to try to get him fired? I think you're letting your distaste for OMFG PORN interfere with your reasoning here. It is not clear to me that porn is in and of itself an automatic interference with other people's work; it is clear to me that trying to get someone fired is pretty extreme, and it's not something I would do unless that person was doing something other than watching porn in a manner he assumed to be private.
posted by languagehat at 7:35 AM on July 6, 2006


I would vote against reporting him. Since no one else witnessed it, he may claim that you were mistaken-- that it was something more innocent. It would be a case of his word against yours (unless proxy logs or cache files prove otherwise).
posted by justkevin at 7:36 AM on July 6, 2006


What you should have done was to immediately send him a "Dude, turn that shit off" message from your blackberry and watch him fall out of his chair. That would ghave been great.
posted by mds35 at 7:39 AM on July 6, 2006 [3 favorites]


Even if he doesn't think somebody else was watching, he made the decision to watch porn at work. This is clearly unacceptable, and is going to create a hostile work environment for coworkers. Even if he's trying to avoid other people seeing what he's doing, people are going to see, and people have seen what he's doing. Eew.

This is something that should be reported up the food chain. The OP should advise the appropriate supervisor, who should take disciplinary action immediately.
posted by gwenzel at 7:39 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


So if I'm unnerved by my coworker's strange manner of dressing, walking, or emphasizing syllables, so unnerved that it interferes with my work, my best choice is to try to get him fired? I think you're letting your distaste for OMFG PORN interfere with your reasoning here.

This isn't a strange manner of dressing, walking, or emphasizing syllables. It's watching explicit porn in the workplace. I'm totally comfortable with porn, but I'd still be unnerved if the person in the next cube was watching it while I was trying to get some work done.

A cubicle is not a glorified peep show booth.

Whether the guy gets fired or not should be a decision made by the company's management. It's the responsibility of the person who saw this activity to report it up the food chain, plain and simple.
posted by gwenzel at 7:44 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Languagehat,

With respect, unless you're working in the porn business, or you're one of two guys clerking at the Qwik-E-Mart, porn has no place in a place of business.

This is not about porn. It's about porn at the office.

It's one thing to wear a funny hat to work. It's quite another to watch hardcore porn on a publicly-visible monitor.

Whether or not it's a firing offense really depends on the stated policies of the actual business.
posted by baltimore at 7:47 AM on July 6, 2006


That anyone would in any way think that watching porn at work is acceptable has shaken my faith in the wisdom of Ask MeFi answerers.

This just seems so black and white to me. Porn at home=fine. Porn at work=fired.

What all of my 20-something employees never seem to realize is that all computers, e-mail, web access etc. are provided by the company for BUSINESS purposes. There is no assumption of privacy in the workplace when it comes to electronic communication and media.

Now I sound like a grumpy old man, but really - PORN AT WORK! Geez.
posted by Futurehouse at 7:48 AM on July 6, 2006


I would send an anonymous email saying something like "I totally saw you watching porn at work yesterday. It's completely inappropriate, and if anyone else catches you or looks at the net logs, you can bet you will be FIRED."

Give the perv a second chance. If he's unrepentant, it will come out soon enough.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:52 AM on July 6, 2006


The guy exercised spectacularly bad judgement, but lets not ruin his life just yet. How about you email him a link to this thread? Let him see that most folks would report it to the boss right away, but that you are giving him just one chance to straighten up his act instead.
posted by LarryC at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2006


Talk to your boss, say that you've seen somebody viewing work-inappropriate material (without naming names, say that you don't want to embarrass the guy) and ask if he can arrange for the appropriate person (maybe himself) to send out an email to everyone reminding everyone what constitutes acceptable use of the company computers. This should be enough to give your coworker a clue that he might have been seen and prevent any further problems.
posted by teleskiving at 7:56 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have zero day-to-day interaction with Johnny Porno (who ostensibly has a small amount of seniority on me.)
You can have a word with him if you like but not as the moral guardian of the rest of the office. You mention that this is a small start up. Is his role pivotal and do you think that a discrete warning is best because it may affect the chances of survival of the company? Would he take it on board and be more discrete?
If he is to be hoist with his owne petar at a later stage and offends someone enough that there is an immediate response, stand back and watch the fireworks.
I once mentioned to a fellow worker that had been bookmarking spanking sites that the computer was accessible to many workers and his reply was "What's the problem, is the menu getting too long?"
I agree though, totally inappropriate at work.
posted by tellurian at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2006


I think Alison summed it up: If you have to be told not to watch porn at work, then you are probably ready for a harsher reminder.

This is totally inappropriate and needs to go to the boss. It's not like you caught him updating lj or playing video games. Porn at the workplace is an absolute and uncontested no.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've had to deal with this in the library from time to time. We had a loose "The computers are in a public space, please be cool" type of policy and every once in a while it was clear that our patrons' choice of what to watch or look at was making other people uncomfortable. I'd go up to the people and sort of do a shoulder tap and say "You'll have to wrap up what you're watching there, it's visible to other people and this is a shared space" Sometimes people can't help themselves, it seems,. but most of the time they're startled and a bit sheepish and they'd wrap it up and move on.

It seems like there's some sort of misunderstanding that cubicles are shared space, sort of, or the extent to which what goes on in them happens in public spaces. I don't have much of an opinion about viewing porn being harassment, but if it's visible from outside the cubicle, Johnny Porno probably needs to be made aware of that and at the very least be asked to be more considerate of those around him. You might also want to check out your workplace rules on internet use, if you think you need some extra weight behind your polite request.
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 AM on July 6, 2006


At least you don't work in an office where the boss and owner single-handedly made clear the requirement for an upgraded mail server and mail software when he took down the network by forwarding the Paris Hilton video as an attachment ...to a bad email address (hence, the bounce-back and throttling of our network connection).

The common joke around the office is that he gets mailers from Playboy that say "Dear Valued Customer..."

Now, my environment is probably completely different from yours, but we're a small office as well, and I like to think that we're a tight enough group to handle these things in a mature fashion -- which, for the years that I've been here, has been light-hearted amusement. He's not walking out of his office and making advances at anyone, or showing off his porn in any way, so he may not have crossed the line that your Johnny Porno has.
posted by thanotopsis at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2006


he made the decision to watch porn at work. This is clearly unacceptable

porn has no place in a place of business.

This just seems so black and white to me. Porn at home=fine. Porn at work=fired.


We clearly have a culture clash here. To me, what you all are saying sounds appalling—I can't believe workers are so eager to get a fellow worker fired because of OMFG PORN. I don't care how many times you repeat "porn at work," I still don't see how a guy watching porn in private (as far as he knows) is a problem for anyone else. It turns out in this case he could be seen, so he should be told that, but it sounds like you all think he should be fired for PORN AT WORK, even if nobody else ever saw or was affected by it. I find that strange and troubling. I always take the worker's side over management's rules unless the worker is clearly and openly being nasty to fellow workers. If the guy is calling female coworkers in to look at his porn and refuses to stop, sure, he's a jerk and deserves what he gets. This is not even in the same ballpark.

I can respect, even if I disagree with, opinions that you shouldn't be doing anything at work you're not paid to do. But if you feel differently about watching porn and reading MeFi at work, then I think you're being hypocritical. Obviously, the poster may take your side rather than mine (though I hope not), but it's not as black and white as you all seem to assume.
posted by languagehat at 8:01 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


On non-preview: jessamyn is, as usual, spot on.
posted by languagehat at 8:02 AM on July 6, 2006


futurehouse has it: pork at home=fine. porn at work=fired. the moran should be working on his tasks, not getting a hard on.

he knows he is not supposed to do it, but he is anyway. if he was respectful in the first place, he would have made sure no one would ever see it--but he didn't. report to yr supervisor, etc.

for those who want to pull him aside quietly or tell him anonymously: this is a workplace, not some kind of social club. you follow the rules or get canned. it is expected that that any employee should know the rules, and follow them. if someone needs a reminder, then they are also forgetting other workplace rules that you haven't seen yet.
posted by lester at 8:03 AM on July 6, 2006


Send him this E-mail:

"Dear Johnny Porno:

Hoo doggies, that was some impressive porno you had going in your cubicle yesterday! I haven't seen that much porno since I visited Pornoland! Don't you think you ought to share all that porno with everyone? I'm sure the Big Boss would love to join you in your cube to watch porno!Porno porno porno porno!

Signed,
Your Office Pal"

See what he does. (Oh, and don't write his real name in the E-mail. Actually address it to Johnny Porno, because that's hilarious.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:09 AM on July 6, 2006


unless that person was doing something other than watching porn in a manner he assumed to be private.

Herein lies the problem with cubicles. They give the illusion of privacy when there is none. The quietest conversation is often overheard and as the OP has shown, people often see things when you think they can't.

'Johnny Porn' was way out of line thinking he could sit back on company time and have his jolly old time. And he did disrupte company business to the point of upsetting the OP enough to abruptly end a meeting that otherwise was not complete.

The OP should absolutely talk to JP's supervisor about watching porn on a company-owned computer on company time in plain view of other employees who are conducting company business.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 8:10 AM on July 6, 2006


I think everything Languagehat's said so far has been absolutely spot on. I suppose your reaction should depend on whether you want him to stop watching porn at work or whether you want to see him punished for his evil, evil ways. A note (anonymous if you like), email or quick word in his ear will likely achieve the former without any harm to him or you, whereas turning him in and getting him fired/ruining future chances at advancement only seem appropriate if it's the latter you want.
posted by terpsichoria at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2006


His behavior is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

You are not the only one his behavior affects. It shows an astounding lack of judgement and disregard for his coworkers.

Mention it to your manager and explain your feelings. They will be bound to act.

If you are uncomfortable with this, send an anonymous letter or email to your HR group. They also will take action.

No second chances for this kind of behavior.
posted by Argyle at 8:14 AM on July 6, 2006


Any suggestion that involves personally discussing the subject with the guy should be scrapped. It's really not your job to figure out what constitutes an appropriate approach or offer someone a chance to straighten up their act, nor to deal with the consequences if this goes poorly.

Also, if he goofs again later and it comes up that you knew about his porn-at-work habit but didn't tell anyone, that doesn't paint you in the best light, now does it?

An anonymous email warning of some kind is a more generous gesture than he deserves for such a stupid mistake. If you share a workplace with women, then your company deserves to know the legal risk they are taking by employing someone who could get them sued big time, and they need to be able to decide how to address it.

If he is able to come up with some sort of excuse that saves his job, good for him; I bet he never makes the same mistake again.
posted by hermitosis at 8:14 AM on July 6, 2006


I'm surprised with the level of zeal and in this threat.

Seriously: as long as he is obviously trying to hide it, I can't see how this is harassment (unless we use the uptight definition of US law).

That's not to excuse his stupidity. But how is this any of your business? Laugh about it, joke about it, tell him, whatever. But denounce him?

Did you ever post to MeFi from work? As far as damages to the company and loss of working time go, I don't see the difference.

Like, posting on MeFi.
posted by uncle harold at 8:14 AM on July 6, 2006


That statement is completely retarded. Maybe if he were insisting that you watch it, or making comments about it to you, but as far as he knew nobody else was watching.

I'm not so sure about that. It seems to me that actually sitting down and watching a pornographic movie in an open working area is so obviously a bad idea that there's a good chance it wasn't accidental. I'm thinking that this guy wanted people to see him watching porn. Subjecting co-workers to your sexual practices is a way of forcing them to participate. It's completely innapropriate.

So if I'm unnerved by my coworker's strange manner of dressing, walking, or emphasizing syllables, so unnerved that it interferes with my work, my best choice is to try to get him fired?

I think there's a difference between someone doing something innocuous that happens to unnerve you, and someone doing something that is clearly against workplace policy and reasonable expectations of appropriate behavior that also unnerves you. I personally have no problem at all with porn-- I enjoy it myself at times. But I would feel weird about someone so blatantly watching porn in an open office.

Getting him fired may be a bit much, and unfortunately that's what's apt to happen if you go to the folks in charge. I would talk to your female co-worker about it, because you have every right to explain why your meeting went weird. Perhaps there is some good way to call the attention of people at you workplace to company policy regarding porn-- send out an email or something. And then if you continue to notice this guy watching porn, turn him in then. He will have gotten a fair warning that his behavior has been noticed, and is not okay.
posted by bookish at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2006


whereas turning him in and getting him fired/ruining future chances at advancement only seem appropriate if it's the latter you want.


Look, there's not going to be a middle ground on this issue. Some people are going to see this as unacceptable, and that a higher-up should be involved, not the OP.

Others are going to say the OP should talk to him and that it's "mean" to try and get this guy fired.

I wouldn't be trying to get the guy fired by talking to a higher up. I would be saying, "I don't appreciate this, it's not appropriate, but I am not the one to be dictating company policy to other employees."

And if he gets fired? Or his chances for advancement are ruined? It's HIS fault, not mine. He is the one who took the inappropriate action - you think he didn't know that was a risk when he started watching porn at work?

But I'm sure this thread will go to twenty rounds, anyway.
posted by agregoli at 8:16 AM on July 6, 2006


The OP has to decide if he is offended enough to get the guy fired. If he goes to management, that's probably what will happen.

If it were me, I'd got with Languagehat's suggestion. The guy did something stupid. Yes, it is no doubt against the rules. Reading MetaFilter at work is no doubt also against the rules, as LH points out. All you hard-liners might think about that, especially if you happen to be at work.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:18 AM on July 6, 2006


" I still don't see how a guy watching porn in private (as far as he knows) is a problem for anyone else.


The only way this guy should have surmised that he was "in private" would be if he were behind closed doors or alone at home. Period. There is nothing about a cublicle that is private. Anyone could walk up behind him, or even peer over the walls, at any time and see what he was doing... and so the problem begins.

Watching porn at work is a problem.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 8:19 AM on July 6, 2006


He should probably be fired for being a fucking idiot. This does strike me as monumentally stupid behavior. Personally, I probably wouldn't have been able to resist blurting out: "Look, that guy's watching porn!" but I'll admit that that probably isn't the most mature course of action. If you really feel bothered I would send the guy an email. If you see him doing the same thing again then you should tell your boss. Even though he's an idiot, he deserves a second chance. (He may have been sent the movie as an attachment from a 'friend' and clicked on it innocently and then didn't have the wherewithal to turn it off... Given that you don't know the full set of circumstances it really is only fair to give him a second chance...)
posted by ob at 8:24 AM on July 6, 2006


If I was his boss he would be fired that day and escorted from the building. The potential liabilities are fucking ENORMOUS and could kill a young start-up stone dead.

(Not just sexual harrassment -- imagine if the start-up's IPs show up in a trawl of kiddie porn downloaders)

By putting you in a position where you witnessed him doing it, he has now placed you in an extremely difficult situation. What if the other person in the meeting DID see it? What if they reported it and you didn't? What if they said you saw it and didn't seem to have a problem wtih it? What if someone else files a sexual harrassment suit and names you as someone that knew it was going on?

You have absolutely no choice but to report this to your manager in writing. For heaven's sake, do not try to sort it out personally.
posted by unSane at 8:24 AM on July 6, 2006


I knew this girl, real smart, Ivy grad, highly valued and compensated employee who worked long hours in a high pressure job (not hours as long as at a typical start up, but still).

She confided in my that occasionally when work got too stressful, or she'd been there too many hours, and just couldn't concentrate on the job at hand (so to speak), she'd go into the ladies' room for a quick wank.

That way, she got it out of her system, felt a little less stressed, was able to get back to work and make more money for her company. No harm, no foul.

The situations aren't entirely analogous; no one at her office (so far as I know, I didn't know her co-workers) knew about her stress relief methods, so I guess no one could feel harassed by it.

I guess my point is, just about everyone (self-)medicates one way or another; maybe they take a few minutes out of the work day to post to metafilter, maybe they have a flask of bourbon in their desk drawer, or maybe they have prescription for Prozac, or maybe they watch a little porn, or maybe the pray to their personal savior. Me, I find "explaining" hypothetical SQL queries to a fictitious audience while having a cancer stick soothing. Whatever: most people know themselves better than we know them, and they know what will best clear their heads and get them back to being productive. Probably the best way to keep them productive is to overlook their eccentricities, until and unless it begins to impinge on others.

The porn watching is a gray area: it has the potential to upset others if it's seen, but if the guy could manage it without anyone noticing, I'd make a point of making sure I didn't notice either. He'll probably be most productive that way, and really, that's the bottom line, isn't it?
posted by orthogonality at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2006


I really like Bookish's idea aboutt asking the company to send out a mass-email regarding their policy on such an issue. It would probably be easy to convince a supervisor to do this:

"I think I caught someone watching porn. I don't want to say who, in case I am somehow mistaken-- that could really ruin someone's reputation. But I think that this policy bears repeating, just in case."
posted by hermitosis at 8:28 AM on July 6, 2006


This isn't a strange manner of dressing, walking, or emphasizing syllables. It's watching explicit porn in the workplace. I'm totally comfortable with porn, but I'd still be unnerved if the person in the next cube was watching it while I was trying to get some work done.

I'm curious, what about putting religious items in your e-mail sig or discussing them at the office? Personally, I find religion to be as offensive and inappropriate in the work place as others might find porn, but that crap is still allowed. How do I bring it up to HR that someone should be required to remove it?

this is a workplace, not some kind of social club. you follow the rules or get canned. it is expected that that any employee should know the rules, and follow them.

It's that kind of misguided thinking that's lead to the dog-eat-dog political marketplace that is the current workplace. People are people and they make mistakes (sometimes egregious ones). Since it didn't offend the original poster, then the original poster should handle it like a human being, not like a corporate automoton, incable of understanding.
posted by Spoonman at 8:28 AM on July 6, 2006


There is no 'grey area' about watching porn at work.

There is no excuse or acceptable reason for this behavior (unless it's a specific part of the job).

I can't fathom why people are trying to defend or justify his behavior. This is a workplace, not a public space, we are talking about.

He should be terminated immediately.
posted by Argyle at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2006


Since it didn't offend the original poster, then the original poster should handle it like a human being, not like a corporate automoton, incable of understanding.


I'm no corporate automoton, but I AM incapable of understanding why someone would look at porn in an office environment, and furthermore, why I should be okay with it.
posted by agregoli at 8:32 AM on July 6, 2006


Seriously, have you "what's the big deal? Porn isn't the end of the world. Don't make a federal case out of it." Types ever actually worked in an office?

Watching porn at work is about a big a deal as they come. It is sexual harrassment in the extreme. This is a HUGE FUCKING DEAL. Short of acutally committing an acutal crime at work, this is as large a violation of generally accepted codes of workplace conduct as there is.

In any office in the universe (well, maybe any office outside the porn industry), this is grounds for IMMEDIATE FIRING WITHOUT PREJUDICE OR RECOURSE. As in "we will stand here as you clear out your desk and then walk you to the door and don't EVER expect to hear from you again and if we do we will sue your ass for every penny we ever paid you in salary" kind of firing.

The fact that you are even considering not going immediately to his superiors and getting his ass shit-canned post haste is a testament to your patience and empathy. I just wanted to let you know that the people going "whatever" are definitely downplaying the magnitude of this guy's transgression.
posted by ChasFile at 8:32 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Personally, I don't care. I'd tend to look the other way if it didn't interfere with his or my ability to get the job done. I'm just saying that from a policy perspective, be aware that this is a huge, huge deal.
posted by ChasFile at 8:38 AM on July 6, 2006


But, I mean.... the guy's name is Johnny Porno, so really, what do you expect?

In any case, I think you should have just asked Johnny to join in the meeting. He would have turned around when you called his name, realized that you could see his monitor, had to struggle to cover his boner, and in general, probably would have got the message pretty quickly.
posted by spilon at 8:39 AM on July 6, 2006


Hey Argyle, I can appreciate your desire for zero tolerance and the need to adhere to HR policy, and I agree the guy made a mistake. But on the other hand, here are a couple of quotes I saw on somebody's blog which may be worth considering when thinking about what the OP should do:
I try to keep these things in mind as I wander through life.

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. -- [Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th] Dalai Lama

Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right. -- [Mohandas] Gandhi
posted by orthogonality at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2006


The reaction in this thread shows that many people think he's totally out of line, and that he should be fired. You can take this into account when deciding what to do. To me, this suggests that reporting him to his superiors is likely to have consequences for him (possibly firing, or at least some kind of warning). You'll have to decide for yourself if you think that's reasonable.

If you wouldn't want to risk him being fired over this, then reporting him is likely a Bad Idea, because it's a possibility. In that case you could try to anonymously e-mail him about it as several people have suggested with varying degrees of humour, or approach him directly and discreetly. If you really are uncomfortable with it and feel that it's grossly out of line, then by all means take it to his superiors. Chances are they'll be obligated to take some sort of action.

Also, I think the point justkevin made is pertinent. Does your small company have the expertise to go back and see the proxy logs to know that what you're saying is true? If he's smart, he's cleared his cache, and if your company doesn't have the know how, they might not be able to verify what you're saying. How important is this to you? If you bring it up, and they don't know how to find out if you're right or not, the thing could end up looking badly on you.
posted by raedyn at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2006


In any office in the universe (well, maybe any office outside the porn industry), this is grounds for IMMEDIATE FIRING WITHOUT PREJUDICE OR RECOURSE.

Make that well, maybe any office outside the porn industry and inside the US

Because I never have heard of someone getting fired for a one time incident around here. And most people I know would probably laugh at the notion.

You keep shouting it's a huge fucking deal, but you didn't yet exactly say why. Apart from stealing company time and bandwidth, which I guess you are doing as well as we speak here on MeFi.
posted by uncle harold at 8:43 AM on July 6, 2006


Put yourself in the company owner's shoes. An employee is blatantly and deliberately putting your company at risk of being sued by his wildly inappropriate behavior. He's risking your livelihood. Wouldn't you want to know?

There is no "gray area" about watching pornography at work. It's a quick route to a lawsuit with a mile-high stack of precedent. That behavior, by itself and irrespective of any other factors, warrants immediate and unconditional termination. This "I'm OK, You're OK, Watching Porn At Work Is OK, Don't Be a Rat" attitude is bullshit. You have a responsibility to speak up.
posted by cribcage at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2006


MetaTalk
posted by tellurian at 8:45 AM on July 6, 2006


What if the OP had been in a meeting with a client? And the client had seen (but perhaps not said anything) and then the company, not knowing why, lost the business of that client?

What if someone who works there, who happens to be offended by porn, walked up to talk to him and he couldn't change the screen in time? Don't they have a right not to be confronted with the images of hardcore porn in the workplace? Although I'm fairly liberal myself, I have family members who are conservative and religious, and I don't think it would be fair to them to be faced with this sort of thing in the workplace, even if the guy "didn't mean to."

What if the OP had been the type of person who was offended by porn? Despite Johnny Porn's "precautions" someone at work did see it going on.

Johnny Porno is disregarding all of these possibilities. As to whether he should be fired for it, I don't presume to know.
posted by witchstone at 8:47 AM on July 6, 2006


The office is a tiny start-up

A major attraction of start-up companies is that they lack the corporate bureaucracy and stiffness of a large corporation. This doesn't mean porn is ok, but it probably means web browsing beyond work-related (or even strictly safe-for-work) content is ok. This guy may have stumbled across a MeFi link or a video sent by his buddies that was more intense than he thought it was going to be and he lingered longer than he should have. It sounds like he was obviously nervous about it--as opposed to feeling free to "kick back and get wild." I think some sort of anonymous personal warning (or direct warning if the OP is up to it) is appropriate and would probably get the job done and more. If he does it again, go to management. But going to management now is cruel and possibly counter to the start-up ethos.

Seriously, have you "what's the big deal? Porn isn't the end of the world. Don't make a federal case out of it." Types ever actually worked in an office?

Some offices play more "fast and loose" than you think. Especially in situations where the employees are working long, long hours and sacrificing a good chunk of their person life--which is what I think of when I see "start-up." Similarly, people get away with much more at financial institutions and law firms where people work 80+ hour weeks. Yes, if you complain to HR in those situations Johnny Porno will still get fired, but the cultural norm is to deal with it personally. My impression is that the 9-5 gig at the generic mega-corp is much more conservative.
posted by mullacc at 8:48 AM on July 6, 2006


Having recently experienced a similar (albeit slightly different) situation at work, I recommend talking to a supervisor. Mention that you think you saw a coworker viewing porn at work thus interrupting your meeting, and let your supervisor decide 1) if they want to know who it was, and 2) what the proper response is. Bottom line is it's not your responsibility to deal with personnel or company policy issues.
posted by geeky at 8:50 AM on July 6, 2006


FWIW, at one of my jobs I found a bunch of incredibly poorly-produced porno (GYM MATS!) on the computer I was given.

I just deleted it. Who cares?
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:52 AM on July 6, 2006


Except that at a small start-up, to some extent it is everyone's responsibility to deal with personnel and company policy issues.

What raedyn said makes so much sense. Right now, no harm has come of what he's done, so it seems neighborly/nice/moderate to let him know he needs to stop rather than getting the entire company involved and getting the guy fired.

If he does it again, then he's a major idiot who's a liablity issue. Right now, he's just a guy who made a mistake.
posted by occhiblu at 8:57 AM on July 6, 2006


One perspective that is missing from the thread so far: let's say you do report him (by name) to the boss. If the employee in question is very well liked by the boss because he shifts a lot of units or because he's a really productive developer, or because they go to the same golf club or whatever, you will be regarded as the guy who brought him a problem he doesn't want to deal with. Also at least one of my bosses absolutely hated people who reported on other employee's bad behaviour. If the comments here have persuaded you to go further do make sure you've had a proper think about the personalities involved.

Alternatively, of course, he may be looking for an excuse to fire the guy, in which case you're bringing him a solution.

Orthogonality, after your first post, I couldn't resist linking this sketch (YouTube).
posted by teleskiving at 8:58 AM on July 6, 2006


I'd just like to point out all the people posting to this thread in what I would assume is work-hours (including myself).

I agree he probably shouldn't be doing it but I think going all tattle-tail on him would be a bad idea in such a small company.

Just confront him personally. He'll A) respect you for not getting him fired and B) be scared sh**less and won't do it again.
posted by jimmy0x52 at 9:01 AM on July 6, 2006


orthogonality,

I read the writings of the Buddha as well. This quote is printed and framed on the wall of my office.

Beyond the 'HR policy' I have seen that this is a real problem at work. I've seen the porn images that one employee made where he photoshopped co-workers heads onto the actors bodies. I've seen where someone wants to know why alt.binaries.beastiality has been take off the company usenet server. I been involved when one co-worker makes unwarranted sexual advances on another and brings porn printouts to help make their case. I've been involved when one co-worker emails nude photos to another co-worker to try to arrange a date.

I've seen, first hand, how pornography affects the workplace in a very bad way. There is no justification for pornography in the workplaces. It impinges on the rights of other employees to a non-hostile workplace and on the company that is required to provide a non-hostile workplace.

Clearly the original posted was bothered by what he/she saw and desires resolution.

Johnny Porno is free to watch pretty much whatever he wants when he's not at work. Good for him. I have nothing against porn. In fact, I even have a few hilarious stories like the time my wife accidentally order tentacle pron because it was similar to Dr. Ogenki...

But Johnny Porno should not impinge on the rights of the OP to a non-hostile workplace. It's not just 'HR policy' it's common sense.
posted by Argyle at 9:03 AM on July 6, 2006


This is a tough issue for me to get my head around. On the one hand, it can be said to be the same as posting to AskMe from work (hey, I'm doing that right now! Eep!), but on the other hand, if a client/investor/coworker walks past while you're posting to AskMe, the chances that said person will be offended are.... slim. Unless they are of the hardcore "WTF ARE YOU DOING ON THE WEB AT WORK!!!1?!1!" type. Porn, however, is much more likely to offend (again, of course, there are exceptions).
posted by antifuse at 9:03 AM on July 6, 2006


The workplace, so far? It is unhostile. No photoshopping has occured. No clients have walked out. No women have clutched their pearls and gotten the vapours. Acting as if all this has happened is silly.
posted by occhiblu at 9:05 AM on July 6, 2006


Oh, thanks a lot teleskiving.

I think some guy in the meeting room behind my cubicle saw me watching that, and HR has a zero-tolerance policy forbidding British humor in the office (ever since an unfortunate incident involving a dead parrot pining for the fjords and a hovercraft full of eels).

So it looks like I'm out of job.
posted by orthogonality at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2006


Uncle Harold's comment struck me. I'm writing this post while sitting at my office; from an "on the clock" perspective, what's the difference between this and watching porn?

It is, perhaps, a rationalization, but as my work involves the design and development of websites and online applications, cruising MeFi - wherein I often find posts and/or questions that inspire me or lead me to new ideas - seems somewhat beneficial to my work. I've a daily routine of reading through a number of usability and design related sites. MeFi doesn't quite qualify, but it's often close enough.

I'd argue that reading the news, checking out the latest Apple rumors, etc. can be seen as at least marginally connected to my job. Porn at the office, however, has no redeeming value.

Neither, of course, does playing Solitaire or Minesweeper. This is where where the double standard lies. Some forms of inactivity are tolerated or even encouraged (the office NCAA pool or water cooler chat) whereas others are condemned. I'd argue that porn and game playing ought be treated equally, but this isn't realistic. Game playing isn't saddled by the same societal baggage that porn watching is.

Which even the most dimwitted of office workers knows. Perhaps this simple disregard/ignorance of social convention is sufficient grounds for dismissal.
posted by aladfar at 9:12 AM on July 6, 2006


I don't see this as an 'uptight, OMG PORN' vs 'laid-back' attitude issue. Whether we agree or not about the US' mildly anal attitude towards sexual harassment the fact remains that it exists, it is real, and it can have real consequences to the survival of the firm and thus your job.

If it were me in your shoes, (bearing in mind that I'm male and have no qualms about consenting adults doing whatever they want) I would split the difference. I would leave him an anonymous, office-printed note. Something to the effect of "A word to the wise your screen is more visible than you think." I would then notify my/his boss that I have seen a co-worker watching hardcore pornography, that I don't have any particular issue with it but that I realize that it may be a problem for the company as a whole and no I'd rather not name the person.

This way you hopefully solve the problem, give Johnny Porno a heads up AND demonstrate your awareness and responsibility to the company. You've discharged your responsibilities to the company and not come off like a jerk. Problem solved.
posted by Skorgu at 9:20 AM on July 6, 2006


damn, i sure am glad i -- as far as i know -- don't work with some of you. what the guy did is stupid, but i think it's a venial offense, not a cardinal one.

back to the topic at hand. i think the best bet is to let it slide. it doesn't sound like you have a good enough relationship with him to casually mention to him that you caught him during his "me time." and even if you get someone higher up to send out an email on the company's policies, he might be able to piece together that the memo came after a time when you were in the meeting room near his cubicle. since you say he has a little seniority on you, he might be able to get back at you in underhanded little ways.

so, let it slide. if it's a one time thing, no harm, no foul. if he's in the habit of doing this, he'll get caught by someone with authority sooner rather than later.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:22 AM on July 6, 2006


Here's my (late) thoughts on the subject: What's the point of porn? It's to get off, right? So in theory, we're talking about a guy who, theoretically (whether he does or not isn't really the point), wants to get off at his desk. From a health standpoint, that's just disgusting. If you're going to be doing things that involve bodily fluids, be it excretory, insulin, or getting off, do it in the tiled, bleached room set aside for that purpose. MeFi, Solitaire, etc, all have less fluids involved, or so I hope.

Personally, if I was in your situation, I would have paused the meeting and either confronted Johnny then or, rather, I like that 'inviting him over to join the meeting' route. Or at least yelped. I'm horrible at hiding reactions.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:27 AM on July 6, 2006


I take back the insulin part and I mean 'any sort of deeper blood-related thing,' in case anyone thinks I'm singling them out. Like, don't wash out your piercings at your desk. Then again, I technically can't have coffee at my desk in my current workplace.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2006


The difference between this and regular "time-theft" (brrrr...) is that it sexualizes an environment that is intended to be as neutral as possible. Office spaces are designed specifically to provide few distractions and few ways for people's personal lives to intrude on their work or anyone else's.

I don't necessarily think this is a healthy or natural or enlightened condition for humans to work under, but that's the way it is. If you choose to work somewhere like this, and you choose to sit and waste your own (and your company's) time quietly with games and browsing and whatnot, you are still at least upholding the generally agreed-upon perception of a neutral, quiet, productive environment. If you are frankly divulging or exploring your sexual fantasies by watching porn on your computer, and creating a situation that may arouse/provoke/disgust others, you are pretty much committing an anarchistic act from an employer's point of view.
posted by hermitosis at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2006


I don't quite understand the "in the eyes of policy, watching porn and posting/reading MeFi are the same" argument. When I'm on MeFi, I'm reading posts made of words and sentences. When I'm watching porn, there are people visibly fucking. How is this the same thing, even in the cold, dead eyes of company policy?

Anyway, I get that this is a big deal in the corporate world and I think a lot of people here are reacting in a humanistic way that is just an anti-corporation-cubicle-farm-environment reactionary stance. Hell, I dislike the idea of working in that environment so much I'd say one should be able to do anything that makes the day more tolerable.

However, he was watching porn. Something people do in a private area, not at work. I can't guess that he knew/didn't know people would see him and whether or not he wanted to be seen, but is that even the point? I mean, he was seen.

We've all done things at work that weren't "by the book." But, this guy went too far, because he introduced a sort of highly emotionally charged (not to mention sexually charged) content in a public space - yes, I think it's safe to call a majority of office environments "public" - where it didn't belong.

If you feel you need to cover your own ass, go write an anonymous email to management. If you want to have pity on this dude, write him an anonymous message.
posted by Destroid at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2006


PORN...... at WORK? Even if everyone else were fine with it, I'd fire him for being completely unaware what's appropriate in a work environment.
posted by electroboy at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2006


It's sexual harassment. This is no different from the asshole who hangs Maxim pinups on his cubicle wall. File a complaint with your boss and hope it never happens again. You shouldn't contact the guy directly. Contacting the guy directly, anonymously or not, will accomplish nothing. The guy will just try to do a better job hiding it and somebody else will end up catching him. Heck, you're probably not even the first person to catch him. This isn't your problem. You've done nothing wrong and there's no reason to kick yourself. Your only responsibility is to file the complaint and let management deal with it. If the guy gets fired, well, that's why you shouldn't watch porn at work.
posted by nixerman at 9:46 AM on July 6, 2006


The last thing I want to know about a coworker is their taste in porn. Watching hardcore porn at work is fundamentally not the same as generically surfing the web - if for no other reason than sexual harassment liability issues.

Take it to HR or its equivalent. Don't name names, just let them know that a review of appropriate internet use is in order.

No, it's not OMFG PORN! But it is awkward as hell. You have my sympathy.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:46 AM on July 6, 2006


What you should do depends on your office situation? Is the environment relaxed or streesful? Are YOU well regarded and liked? Is Johnny Porno?

If you DO decide to do thing, it is of course political to some extent and can have consequences. Will you be fingering the lead programmer and thus throw off the schedule? Or will you be pointing out an obvious problem and thank god, now we can fire him?

Just stuff to think about.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:53 AM on July 6, 2006


If his porn-watching begins to interfere with his work

Hello? The original poster was so shocked that she, "dumbstruck," ended a meeting.

If you're going to define this in terms of a culture clash, then you have to realize that in the predominant culture here in the USA, porn in public would not be considered acceptable. At work, folks from all walks of life have to interact in a way such that they remain happy and able to work together efficiently.

The rules of polite behavior that allow this to happen are called 'etiquette,' and they exist not because the rulemakers hate porn or because someone was in love with rules, but because keeping a harmonious work environment for all employees is more important than taking a moral stand on a person's right to do things in public that make others uncomfortable.

Your co-worker clearly has no concept. If I'd hired him and then heard this story, I'd regret having hired him. But what you should do depends on your workplace environment. If it's small and everyone's reasonably friendly, I'd suggest approaching his boss with your completely valid concerns. Any boss would want to nip this kind of liability risk in the bud, well before it got around to causing problems with your company's clients, Federal regulators, or sexual harassment lawsuits.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:55 AM on July 6, 2006


This was going on with a guy my wife worked with. He was a partner in the firm, so, the other partners got the IT guy to monitor his internet usage over a month or two. They then called him into a meeting and said, you can go quietly or we can let everyone take a look at the sites that your computer has been visiting.
posted by trbrts at 9:56 AM on July 6, 2006


Orthogonality, after your first post, I couldn't resist linking this sketch (YouTube).

I just independently linked that in the meta thread. Tiny minds think alike!

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2006


She confided in my that occasionally when work got too stressful, or she'd been there too many hours, and just couldn't concentrate on the job at hand (so to speak), she'd go into the ladies' room for a quick wank.

ortho, you should clearly report her at once and have her escorted from the building. That kind of behavior is inappropriate and immoral and debases the workplace environment.

damn, i sure am glad i -- as far as i know -- don't work with some of you.

Me too, with bells on!
posted by languagehat at 10:00 AM on July 6, 2006


In any office in the universe

If your universe consists of the hyper-corporate and uber-PC portion of the workplaces in the United States of America.

You people take work too seriously, and are too ready to be victims, and too ready to make other people pay for breaking rules.

I'm not saying the situation under discussion is acceptable and the OP should suck it up, but I'm also really fucking glad I don't work in an office with a lot of the people in this thread.

Languagehat et al, I want to be on your bus.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:09 AM on July 6, 2006


I would just tell him something like "Hey Johnny Porno, you must not be aware that your monitor is visible from the meeting room, and I was pretty surprised by what I could see on it when I were in a meeting the other day. Not everyone is likely to be as understanding, if you know what I mean, so you might want to be more careful in future." That's assuming, of course, that you don't want to get his ass fired.
posted by biscotti at 10:23 AM on July 6, 2006


"Seriously: as long as he is obviously trying to hide it, I can't see how this is harassment (unless we use the uptight definition of US law)."
Yes, the uptight definition of US law. The US law by which a small American company can get sued out of existence. This guy did this once and wasn't very cautious about it. What's to stop him from doing it again? He's putting your livelihood at risk.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:27 AM on July 6, 2006


Late to the party, but I'm with the "fire him because he's a fucking moron, not because it's porn" crowd.

Seriously, anyone dumb enough to think that their browsing history is safe from the watchful eyes of corporate management shouldn't be trusted with proprietary data or trade secrets. These are the same people who respond to generic viagra emails.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2006


reminders for everyone in the thread:

1 - there is no HR department, it's a small start up

2 - we don't know what country this transpired in.
posted by raedyn at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2006


Futurehouse writes "What all of my 20-something employees never seem to realize is that all computers, e-mail, web access etc. are provided by the company for BUSINESS purposes. There is no assumption of privacy in the workplace when it comes to electronic communication and media."

Many smaller companies give out access to technology and equipment for personal use as a non-taxable benift. Heck my brother in law was assigned a 3/4 ton 4X4 that he can use in any way he wants as long as the truck comes to work with him everyday. Between lease payments, maintence, gas(he fills the truck on the company account), and insurance we figured he's getting at least $1000 a month in unreported personal use benifts out of the vehicle. Pull up on a sunday morning at the local lake and half the trucks parked there are owned by oil field companies.

Seriously, have you 'what's the big deal? Porn isn't the end of the world. Don't make a federal case out of it.' Types ever actually worked in an office?"

Yep, many. I can tell you that with 12 years of technical support experience this kind of thing is common. Common. Heck I've been in offices (of a company with 3000+ employees) with walls practically papered with naked calendar chicks.

ChasFile writes "In any office in the universe (well, maybe any office outside the porn industry), this is grounds for IMMEDIATE FIRING WITHOUT PREJUDICE OR RECOURSE. "

Most places with an HR department have to give at least one warning for even the most outragous offenses that don't involve property or violence.

ChasFile writes "Personally, I don't care. I'd tend to look the other way if it didn't interfere with his or my ability to get the job done. I'm just saying that from a policy perspective, be aware that this is a huge, huge deal."

Some places. Some places (especially smaller companies) are more laisse-faire. For example I've worked for a company with half a dozen employees where it was probably 25% that everyone would be drunk by the time I showed up in the office after being in the field all day. They'd get drinking at lunch and never stop.

I'd just let the guy know privately (either in person or with an anonymous e-mail) what I saw and how. As long as he's getting his work done I don't have a problem with whatever he may be de-stressing with.
posted by Mitheral at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2006


The rules of polite behavior that allow this to happen are called 'etiquette,' and they exist not because the rulemakers hate porn or because someone was in love with rules, but because keeping a harmonious work environment for all employees is more important than taking a moral stand on a person's right to do things in public that make others uncomfortable.

This is so, so true. Honestly, I can't even imagine how someone could have bad enough judgment to watch porn at work. I wouldn't want someone that dense working for me. It's just common sense.

And equating reading this site with porn-watching is utterly ridiculous. My boss sees me looking at this, I get the "back to work with you" look. If I got caught watching hard-core porn, I think his reaction would be a little different.
posted by 912 Greens at 10:43 AM on July 6, 2006


Threads like this are the reason I wish anon's could follow up...

Anyway, I'm really baffled by the people who don't seem to think this is a big deal. Johnny P. is obviously not too discreet with his viewing habits, and if another employee (of the very sensitive, perhaps ultra-Christian variety) caught a glimpse of his monitor, hello, huge sexual harassment suit involving the entire company! You say you were in a meeting room...what if you had clients in that day for a meeting and Johnny didn't notice? Porn itself is not a big deal. Porn in the workplace shows an utter disregard for the company and the employees, and can land lots of people (the bosses, the IT people) in loads of trouble. This is much different than playing solitare or surfing MeFi.

I say talk to your boss about it. He/she will want to know, especially if the idiot is doing it right next to a meeting room for chrissakes.
posted by apple scruff at 10:44 AM on July 6, 2006


BTW I didn't mean to imply that only certain kinds of people would file a harassment case...watching hardcore porn is pretty universal in its offensiveness at the workplace.
posted by apple scruff at 10:47 AM on July 6, 2006


I'd talk to the boss, too. Not because porn is the end of the world, but because watching it at work shows pretty poor judgement and/or huge cluelessness which are likely to result in further problems (not necessarily involving porn). And this is what I'd tell the boss - that Johnny Porno is potentially a problem waiting to happen, not that he's immoral or whatever.

No righteousness, no crusading for moral purity, just keep an eye on this guy because his judgement is questionable and our company is too small to weather easily-avoidable blunders. You can encourage the boss to have a talk with him rather than firing him right away, and hopefully Johnny P will shape up.
posted by Quietgal at 11:00 AM on July 6, 2006


If you report him - and he gets fired, you've just removed his source of revenue.

Guess what everyone. EVERYONE has screwed up at work. At least once (over say a 5 year period.) It happens....I've seen almost every coworker at every job have a slipup. People are human.

The whole "zero tolerance" thing? It's annoying, insensitive and clearly shows people's patience is thin.

Yes, you should mention it to your boss. Yes, it's inappropriate. Yes, people make mistakes. People make bad decisions all the time, and you're possibly going to cause him to learn a hard lesson.

You also could jump on his machine (after work today or tomorrow) and change his desktop to:


"PLEASE DON'T WATCH PORN (OR ANYTHING OFFENSIVE AT WORK). In fact - just watch entertainment stuff like that at home"

-Secret Work Santa



And then never mention it again .
posted by filmgeek at 11:01 AM on July 6, 2006




Guess what everyone. EVERYONE has screwed up at work.

I've been working since I was 15 years old, and although I certainly have made my share of mistakes, strangely I have somehow -- somehow! -- managed to avoid watching hardcore porn in my workplace for lo, these 20+ years. Superhuman? Perhaps.
posted by scody at 11:07 AM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Watching porn at work is a problem.

watching it at home is a problem, too, if you have a 50-inch plasma
posted by matteo at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2006


agregoli writes "Look, there's not going to be a middle ground on this issue. Some people are going to see this as unacceptable, and that a higher-up should be involved, not the OP.

"Others are going to say the OP should talk to him and that it's 'mean' to try and get this guy fired."


This isn't so, and phrasing it this way distorts the actual positions, because the option of letting him know to cool it in some way without going to his boss is actually the middle ground. The extremes are going to his boss (possibly getting him fired), or doing nothing. It's well worth keeping in mind the very real compromise between them, which is to inform him that he was observed without getting mgmt involved.
posted by OmieWise at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2006


The hysteria about porn in the office can result in trouble and anxiety for the innocent:

Like when I mistakenly typed eson.com (a porn site) instead of espn.com.

Or when adware manipulated my computer into opening pornsites automatically.

Or when I feel afraid of being caught typing the word "porn" right now.
posted by Aghast. at 11:14 AM on July 6, 2006


So great, your advice is to compromise. All I'm trying to illustrate is that there are different ways to answer the question, there is no need for consensus, and so I'm wondering what all the argument and speculation about people's possible hang-ups and problems are all about simply for thinking differently from each other.

What's important in AskMe is that the question is answered and the OP has plenty of answers to choose from already. So we all win! We're winners! Hooray! =P

I've always wondered why certain subjects get the 20 round treatment here, but porn is definitely one of them.
posted by agregoli at 11:17 AM on July 6, 2006


1.) Being fired for watching hardcore pornography at an open workspace that faces a conference room (while glancing over your shoulder to make sure you don't get caught) does not constitute "zero tolerance for a mistake." Many of you are acting as if this is equivalent to accidentally copying an entire department on a confidential e-mail. It's not.

2.) Blaming OP for the fact that Porny McFacial might get fired is the absolute height of, "You're not responsible for your own actions. Society is responsible." Fuck that.

3.) Lots of comments have focused on, "It depends on what's tolerated at your workplace." This is an example of something that happens frequently on AnonAskMe, treating the OP as if he's stupid. Read what he asked and how he asked it. Give him the benefit of the doubt that he's able to intelligently conclude that this behavior is not appropriate and would not be tolerated in his workplace.

4.) People have addressed the OP's point of view and The Happy Jacker's point of view. Now try taking the company owner's point of view. This isn't a large, faceless corporation that can write a million-dollar settlement check when that female coworker eventually stumbles across Howard's Rear End playing on a nearby monitor. There are real, serious repercussions to consider — and since you're so eager to put yourselves into the shoes of the guy who might get fired for something he did, try putting yourself into the shoes of the guy who might lose his entire business for something he didn't know about.
posted by cribcage at 11:27 AM on July 6, 2006


I think nixerman had a really valid point - who is to say that this is the first time this guy has been caught watching porn? The OP may be the 1st person to catch him or the 101st, but it's impossible to know unless people start speaking up. I'm not sure the the OP has an obligation, per se, to report Johnny Porno to the higher ups, but it might be good to have a record of some sort of this occurrence. If there have been multiple unheralded occurrences, it's likely that a few people are silently uncomfortable with the situation and they shouldn't be dismissed with a simple "chill out...it's only porn". In most environments, that justification can only fly a couple of times at most...after that, it ceases to be a matter of opinion and it starts to taint a supposedly neutral environment.

I agree that firing would be rough punishment for a one time transgression, but what if it's the 2nd time? Or the 10th? While there may be some room for flexibility with these types of issues, the line has to be drawn somewhere...and line-drawing is clearly the duty of management.
posted by johnsmith415 at 11:31 AM on July 6, 2006


I used to work in the IT department of a "cool" organization.

There was so much porn around that it was ridiculous.

Eventually HR determined that if something sexually offensive (like a Playboy magazine) was directly related to your work (like the company is co-branding with Playboy), then that is the only time that sexually oriented material or discussion could happen at work.

Now for me, I spent a good deal of my time cleaning out porn in order to remove spyware and other crappy invaders on WORK OWNED COMPUTERS. I wish HR could have protected me from some of the totally gross shit I had to see...

You wanna watch porn? Get your own computer to use at home on your own internet connection. It is really simple.
posted by k8t at 11:33 AM on July 6, 2006


porny mcfacial. hee.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:42 AM on July 6, 2006


I would talk to your boss.

Depending on the circumstance, it may or may not be an 'OMFG fire him!' situation.

I work in a media lab, and some of the content that we access is risque. I've actually had porn (and other questionable material, like graphic pics of murdered Iraqis on the Al-Jazerra site, etc.) up on my computers a few times, because I *had* to see it, because of what we were working on at the time. Nothing hardcore, but still. Essentially porn. This lab is also open to many different teams, and many different people pass through. If the wrong person sees it, they could concievably go to HR (or whoever) and get me fired.

But, what they wouldn't know is that it's actually part of my job, and by *not* viewing it, I could get in trouble for different reasons. (As a caveat, our boss also gave us the option of not having to work on this 'sensitive material' if it offended us)
posted by spinifex23 at 11:52 AM on July 6, 2006


Now try taking the company owner's point of view.

No. Why the hell should we? If the company owner wants to post a question, we'll consider their point of view. Right now, we're considering the poster's point of view, alongside our own views of how human beings should act.
posted by languagehat at 12:02 PM on July 6, 2006


Personally I don't think it's a sign of weakness to give someone a second chance and/or the benefit of the doubt. I'm on the side of the "we've all fucked up" argument...
posted by ob at 12:18 PM on July 6, 2006


Why the hell should we?

Because that's how responsible, ethical human beings behave: When they find themselves in the middle of a situation rife with potentially serious consequences, they try to consider the perspectives of various people who could be directly affected before choosing a course of action. Because we all live together and they all work together and "every man for himself" fails about a dozen tests for civil behavior.

Did you seriously need that explained?
posted by cribcage at 12:22 PM on July 6, 2006


I'm of the opinion that it's not anonymous's job to decide whether firing the guy is appropriate, or he deserves a second chance, or if porn at work is or isn't appropriate behaviour. It's anon's job to tell a supervisor (his, not Johhny's) about a situation that made him uncomfortable and/or could cause serious problems for his employer. After that, let the employer decide what they want to do about it.

Anon wouldn't be getting the guy fired, or not getting the guy fired, or being a human being or not being a human being depending on how he handles this. The incident is not anon's fault and he shouldn't have to deal with it any more than minimally.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2006


With all due respect to futurehouse, I think this is a much grayer area than at first it may appear.

I started my career at an ISP on the early side of the explosion of website hosting as an industry. As we were one of the only companies able to provide the kind of server horsepower and bandwidth required, a significant amount of our revenue flow came from porn vendors.

As an aside, I don't know if this is apocryphal, and I'm too lazy to Google it, but my hunch is that almost all major media-on-the-Intarweb advances have come because of the basic demand for porn online. Streaming media didn't evolve because people wanted to watch the news online. Streaming media evolved because people wanted to watch "Naked Grannies XIV" online.

Anyway.

In the course of working customer support for those customers, every single one of us saw enough porn to last us the rest of our lives. Some of my favorite moments involved being in the middle of troubleshooting a problem with GiantMultiMillionDollarPornCustomer when my VP walked by with a tour from the Wall Street Journal. There's really nothing like seeing a giant digitized cock to wake you up first thing in the morning.

At any rate, this selfsame company was also quite large, in the thousands of employees, and had an active HR department. As dealing with the purveyors of porn all day can induce a sort of bunker mentality, people occasionally made, sometimes spectacularly, what I'd call poor life choices. Like, for instance, trying to get their coworkers to go outsleep with them, pulling the goalie in the bathroom, getting blowjobs (or giving them) to or from coworkers under their desk during business hours, running porn servers from their desktop machine...

All of these things are inappropriate, some wildly so. I know for a fact that only the guy running the porn server from his desktop was actually fired for his transgressions.

I do not envy the HR professionals at that company, because they had to make enormously subtle and difficult judgements on a daily basis about what constituted the difference between watching porn for pleasure at work and watching porn for work purposes at work. It was a legally actionable version of "I'll know it when I see it", and one of the results was that your behavior had to get pretty egregious before you were put on remediation.

To bring this all around to the OP's original question, I think how you deal with it will very much depend on the line of business your company is in, whether this would ever be considered appropriate behavior, and what sort of corporate culture exists at the office.

The manager in me wants to align with cribcage, because the points he makes are all of them entirely valid. However, the person that's worked in the Internet industry since roughly 1995 tends to lean more towards the orthogonality side of things, simply because I've seen how stuff like this works in The Real World.

I would carefully consider your response in light of the corporate culture, the informal (and/or formal definition) of what's considered acceptable, and (if this is in fact inappropriate) what channels you have available to you. This is a much more complex question than many of the responders here wish it to be, and any response on your part should be made with lots of caution.
posted by scrump at 12:34 PM on July 6, 2006


Probably, we should have a recount before we decide to destroy someone's livelihood (and their family's well-being - think of the children!!).

This reminded me again of the guy who got fired from my work for watching porn (no one told, the company saw his IP logs or somesuchthingiamnotatechie). His wife had just had a baby. I know they weren't well off. I couldn't (and still can't) imagine why someone would risk their job and financial security like that over something like watching porn movies at work.

Did the company destroy his livlihood? Did the IT person who found the logs do it? Or was it by his own hand that he found himself without a job and without a recommendation?
posted by agregoli at 12:35 PM on July 6, 2006


You should definitely talk to your boss.

Now if you truly don't want the offender fired, mention the incident but refuse to identify the offender (and don't gossip about it to anyone else). Ask your boss to send out a mass email to the entire office outlining what is / isn't appropriate behaviour. This is what many companies (such as mine) do in order to enforce rules while giving their employees a chance to shape up.

If you don't care if the offender gets fired or not, then go ahead and identify him.
posted by randomstriker at 12:40 PM on July 6, 2006


I've watched porn at work with coworkers. I've watched videos that border on porn at work with coworkers (the guy jerking off to counterstrike thing, other bawdy memes). In an office. I've drank at the office with coworkers.
We have 15 regular employees (I'm not really one anymore, since I work from home), and I know that at least a handful of former employees have had sex in our offices.
I know that if I complained, I could probably get some of them fired, because our boss wouldn't approve. But he doesn't approve of AskMe either. I know that I could get the ad rep who steals from the postal cash to buy beer for the office fired.

Sure, you can argue that this is black and white and that by being irresponsible, he endangered everyone and let North Korea have the bomb. Or you can think about what you'd like to have done if you were seen doing something stupid in the office. I'd like to get the heads up from a coworker that they weren't cool with, say, my listening to death metal (which happened, because of a Christian coworker) than to get hauled into the boss's office. If he's a jerk about it, you made your best effort to be a decent human being, and should feel free to bury him. You might even want to document your suspicions now, in case his behavior does become legitimately harrassing.

But is this the end of the world? Nope.
posted by klangklangston at 12:41 PM on July 6, 2006


Look, those who are saying that it's not up to the OP to decide should consider this: You're saying that the guy should have thought about the consequences of his actions before watching porn at work but you don't think that the OP should consider the consequences of his/her actions in talking to their boss? One action has repercussions and the other doesn't? Did the porn guy do something wrong? Yes he did. Did the OP do something wrong? No, but that doesn't mean that the OP's actions don't have consequences... Maybe to dude should get fired for doing this, but if the OP thinks that there's a fair chance of this and doesn't think that that's right then he/she should talk to the guy before going to the management.
posted by ob at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2006


Seriously, the "don't be a tattler" is gradeschool bullshit. Thinking, responsible adults shouldn't make their decisions based on adolescent peer-pressuring tactics. To say someone isn't being an ethical human being because they choose to report illicit behaviour that (most likely) constitutes a clear violation of their company's policy is just plain stupid. It's not fair and it's a passive aggressive method of forcing your opinion down other people's throats. If you don't think porn's a problem in the workplace, fine, but that doesn't mean you can flaunt the rules as a result.

And if you see someone using porn at work and it makes you uncomfortable, it constitutes sexual harassment. Period. As has been said a few times before, porn is not a grey area in this respect. And if you want to report it, it's your right to do so...it doesn't make you an unethical, unfeeling human being. It makes you someone who doesn't want to be subjected to something that makes you uncomfortable and rightly so. To say that this isn't the case constitutes a huge social step backwards. While this argument can be twisted in the opposite direction ("so and so is leering at me...I'm reporting it!"), I'd say that's far and away better than what it used to be ("so and so has his hand on my ass...but I'd better not report it because then I'd be a tattler").

Fear of being labelled a tattler shouldn't come into play...
posted by johnsmith415 at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2006


Upon further consideration, I guess fear of being labelled a tattler is a legitimate concern in the real world. Some people never evolve past that stage. I just think it's dumb.
posted by johnsmith415 at 12:51 PM on July 6, 2006


biscotti writes "I would just tell him something like 'Hey Johnny Porno, you must not be aware that your monitor is visible from the meeting room, and I was pretty surprised by what I could see on it when I were in a meeting the other day. Not everyone is likely to be as understanding, if you know what I mean, so you might want to be more careful in future.' That's assuming, of course, that you don't want to get his ass fired."

This is exactly what I would do and it seems to me the most sensible thing to do.

Also, I agree with everything languagehat has said.
posted by Penks at 12:58 PM on July 6, 2006


johnsmith415 writes "Seriously, the 'don't be a tattler' is gradeschool bullshit. Thinking, responsible adults shouldn't make their decisions based on adolescent peer-pressuring tactics."

Yeah, but most of the "don't be a tattler" answers are directed at the issue of the consequences, the very adult consequences, of going to the boss. Painting it as if it's just an issue of immaturity does a disservice not only to those who've taken the position, it also obscures the issue for anon, who's trying to make a decision about all of this. If you have any doubts about the nuanced manner in which the poster is approaching the issue I suggest reading the question again, where s/he makes clear that there are several options on the table.
posted by OmieWise at 1:08 PM on July 6, 2006


What baltimore said.
posted by Cohiba4009 at 1:14 PM on July 6, 2006


Omiewise:

I recognize that there are real consequences to the whole "tattling" approach (as I admitted in the next post), but that doesn't make it right or morally viable. To demonize a person for tattling IS immature and it's most certainly vindictive...but this isn't to suggest that there won't be a backlash if you decide to go to the boss.

And I have to disagree that painting this as an issue of immaturity does a disservice to those who have taken this position. For one thing, I don't think the "don't be a tattle-tale" approach is a position that many people have taken...a few have mentioned it, but most people on that side of the fence seem to think that *somebody* should be told - just not the boss. I just think it's disingenuous for someone to tell the OP not to impose his/her morality on their co-worker (porn is bad!) and then turn around and impose their own morality on the OP by telling him/her not to be a tattler.

As for obscuring the issue for the OP, do you really think that 1 post of 150 is really going to have an effect on what they take from this thread?
posted by johnsmith415 at 1:26 PM on July 6, 2006


You need to evaluate whether it would benifit you to crush him and piously justify it either way.
posted by lanboy at 1:36 PM on July 6, 2006


All the trainings I've been to have defined "Hostile Environment" as a pattern of offenses in the workplace. So far we only know of one.

The dividing line between to fire or not to fire and to snitch or not to snitch reminds me of the old Myers-Briggs Perception versus Judgement scale.

I like the approach a supervisor to send out a work-wide email idea. Although, I would be prepared for the supervisor to demand to know the perp. The mass email approach hopefully keeps the OP out of any workplace drama, potentially helps assuage the company of liability and reinforces company policy with the problem employee and any other folks who might think this was a good idea.
posted by Skwirl at 1:41 PM on July 6, 2006


Look, just scare the guy with an anonymous and very direct note – "Excuse me. Watching porn at work?" – and if he keeps on doing it, he'll probably get himself fired anyway. Assuming you're neutral to him and not actually feeling harassed by the incident, that is. There may be other extenuating circumstances.
posted by furiousthought at 2:03 PM on July 6, 2006


scrump writes "As an aside, I don't know if this is apocryphal, and I'm too lazy to Google it, but my hunch is that almost all major media-on-the-Intarweb advances have come because of the basic demand for porn online."

The VCR (one of the reasons VHS won out over Beta is Sony wouldn't license the tech to the porn industry), Polariods, Captchas, PPV and many other techs were all helped immensly by people wanting to view porn. The adult entertainment industry has always been a pioneer.
posted by Mitheral at 2:14 PM on July 6, 2006


You know, I just recalled the one time I watched porn at the office. I tell you this because I wonder if "Johnny Porno's" situation wasn't similar:

I'm visiting (for business reasons) a co-worker's desk, and the guy in the adjoining cube calls me over to "Hey look at this". So I amble over, and he plays (it turns out he's already played it for the co-workers who sat near him) a video parodying a Mentos commercial. Mentos is the brand name of kind of breathe mint candy, and several years ago they had a series of intentionally campy ads showing people doing "impossible" things after enjoying a Mentos.

The parody shows a woman, by using a Mentos inappropriately, finally convincing her boyfriend to perform cunnilingus. I was bit uncomfortable watching this at work, but I didn't want to create a conflict with the co-worker; his position was such that his cooperation or lack thereof could make life easy or difficult. And the video was funny: the actors captured the campiness of the real Mentos ads so well it seemed like you were watching a real Mentos ad, except that the woman with the campy toothy grin had no clothes on and a breath mint in -- well, you get the picture.

What made the ad so interesting to my coworker wasn't that it was parody and certainly wasn't that it was porn -- what made it so interesting was that it was both parody and porn.

I suspect this is what happened with "Johnny Porno" -- the fact that he was looking around nervously, not clutching himself and staring at the video in the furious concentration of a wank suggests to me that he probably got an email (quite possibly from another one of the OP's co-workers, or even the boss) telling him to "take a look at this unbelievable shit". And the interest was probably because it wasn't "just porn" but something odd, strange, or disgusting ("they get that big??", "I never knew a person could bend that way", "I guess what they say about midget is true").

So he gets an email, it says "take a look at this", he does, he realizes it's porn, but he figures, I already opened it, let me check if anyone's looking, ok, I don't see anything, might as well see the whole thing.

Shit happens. Generally start-ups attract -- and prefer -- risk takers. The guy's clearly a risk-taker. Don't convince your boss you're not, you may be convincing him you don't fit in. Let it go.
posted by orthogonality at 2:44 PM on July 6, 2006


If he's watching porn this openly, it's because he doesn't really care who sees him.

If he is valuable to the company and above a certain threshold of seniority, they won't fire him. In fact, they may already know about his porno habit. However, informing his higher-up is not necessarily "trying to get him fired" anyway -- anonymous was sincerely uncomfortable with the situation.

Whether you inform him or his boss is your judgement call to make. Absolutely don't tell the co-worker, though. It makes you a gossip, and no-one can verify the truth of your story.

Porn At Work = Just Say No. Mainly because it combines two general office no-no's -- nudity and sex. Examples: Don't walk around the office bare-chested just because it's a bit warm. Don't stick your tongue down your wife's throat and your hand up her skirt when she drops by for lunch. Don't discuss your favorite sexual position in the middle of a meeting. And don't watch naked people fucking where your co-workers can see you.
posted by desuetude at 2:47 PM on July 6, 2006


Like orthoganility's case, this does happen unintentionally. Years ago when I worked in the web development dept of a big company, I was talking with a co-worker about web-cam sites (late 90s, you know). I told her about JenniCam. She went to look at it and came back horrified, having gone to the porn-site of similar name by accident. She was startled/shocked, I was apologetic/surprised, we ended up getting her the right URL and all was o.k. Same thing used to happen with the WhiteHouse site -- those were the days.

Having said that, the web marketing manager in the same company was a real fuck-up. When he was asked to decided to move on to "other opportunities," the tech guys who were tasked to clean up his PC found hundreds of porn sites in his browser cache and bookmarks. This was the same guy who kept all his email (1000s of messages) in his Inbox. If there's a lesson in that episode, it's that the guy who is thinking with his dick is not thinking about his job.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:15 PM on July 6, 2006


Yeah, but the original poster's pretty well convinced it wasn't an accidental click and it was "hardcore porn," so...
posted by furiousthought at 3:26 PM on July 6, 2006


I agree with those that think it's inappropriate behavior, for what it's worth, but mostly because no one just watches porn.

"Well that was a jolly good movie; back to work!"
posted by hoborg at 4:30 PM on July 6, 2006


As a sysadmin, someone in my office watching porno goes straight to the boss, does not pass go but does get taken behind the woodshed. Aside from the sexual harrassment implications, there are network security ones as well as other probable legal liabilities too. If the OP's workplace has an acceptable use policy, and he is in contravention of said AUP, he does need to be taken behind the woodshed.
posted by richter_x at 4:34 PM on July 6, 2006


Robert Angelo writes "Same thing used to happen with the WhiteHouse site -- those were the days."

I was so bummed when the porn peddlers lost whitehouse.com. Because of the way IE handled incomplete URLS they were a great example of how anyone could accidently end up surfing porn. When some busybody was extolling how it was impossible to accidently surf porn I'd have them type whitehouse into the address bar and press enter and voila porn in their browser.
posted by Mitheral at 4:41 PM on July 6, 2006


Since "start-up" is rarely used outside of the pure business and technology world, it's likely this guy just couldn't wait to get home or something.

However, having worked in advertising and other creative environments, I've seen art directors zipping through the Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson video for lighting styles, DEEP THROAT as a design agency promo and so on and so forth.

And, given it was such a short section of time, it could have just been a very racy scene in non-porn as well. I know our video team has a number of R-rated films for style reference.

It's not to say that this wasn't inappropriate, that the OP shouldn't confront the guy. But since we don't know Johnny Pervo's job title, the type of work the company does or other things they'll tolerate, who knows if this was far out of line or just a "we gotta move this guy away from the conference room" and give him a warning.

Not every office in the world is as square as all that. And in under 100 employees, it might be a lot less square.
posted by Gucky at 4:59 PM on July 6, 2006


I think at the very least this guy should be made aware that what he is doing is inappropriate and it has been noted. Another question I would ask, is if there is any mention of internet surfing protocol in the contract that employees sign on starting with a new company? Just about every employer I've worked for has made it clear with a new employee what their stance was on perusing inappropriate material so everyone was very aware of the consequences of doing so and did it at their own risk.

A little story on how bad these things can get, my ex was very senior with a web development firm in the UK. This firm made it clear what their policies regarding porn etc were (it wasn't tolerated) and made it known that computers were monitored to keep a check on this behaviour.

Fast forward to late one evening. My ex worked odd hours and decided to pop into the office to pick something up. On walking to his desk, he discovers a co-worker (a subordinate) at my ex's computer, watching hardcore porn with tissues in his hand, along with the obvious, in his other hand).

This employee knew the risks of watching porn at work and had decided to do it anyway but to watch it AT HIS BOSS'S COMPUTER so that if it was traced, it wouldn't go back to him, and his boss would get blamed. My ex had the power to fire him on the spot. Lucky for this guy, all he got was a severe warning. Not only was this guy disgusting in my opinion, he was evil. So anyway, these things can go further than you think is all I'm saying.
posted by Jubey at 7:29 PM on July 6, 2006


I work in a porn-related business. Our product isn't porn but we're very tied into the industry - seeing porn is actually a day-to-day thing in our office.

That said, if some slacker was sitting around watching porn for his enjoyment he would be out of there. Not because there is anything morally wrong with it but because there's work to do.
posted by melt away at 8:10 PM on July 6, 2006


I've got it! Remember the AskMe from the guy asking how to keep his room mate from eating all of his food out of the fridge? He got a ton of suggestions but what he did was better than any of them. He printed off the whole thread on dayglo green paper and taped it to the refrigerator door! Then he posted some pictures of it on Flickr and linked to them in MetaTalk.

That, anonymous, is what you must do! Print this thread off, and the MeTa thread as well, and tape them to Johnny Porno's monitor, desk, and cubicle. Then position yourself in the conference room to spy on him as he discovers your handiwork. Film the whole event and post it to YouTube. You will be an internet sensation.
posted by LarryC at 8:33 PM on July 6, 2006


As one of the people saying the OP should go to the bosses, I'll try to address the consequences issue. I don't see the 'consequences' in this case as arising from any actions of the OP. The OP is doing the reasonable sort of thing, and letting the boss know what's going on at work. Any 'consequences' that arise from that for Johnny P. are a result of Johnny's actions, not the OPs.

If Johnny P shot someone, and the doctor nicked an artery trying to get the bullet out, I'm not really going to blame the doctor for that person's death. Sure, he had some role in it, but he wasn't the driving force behind it. I realize that legally, that might not be the case, but I like to see blame assigned where it actually belongs, not on the guys caught in the middle of a bad situation.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:43 PM on July 6, 2006


Well, since we seem to be participating in an informal poll of sorts at this point, put me down in the "don't get him fired but let him know discreetly that you saw what he was doing and he should really not do it again" camp.

For me, the issue isn't the porn, really, although I also find it extremely inappropriate. It's the fact that this sort of behaviour may (and I stress MAY) be the beginning, middle or end of a pattern of increasingly irresponsible or self-destructive behaviour. Maybe it was the first time. Maybe it was accidental. But you've seen it and can't unsee it and it's made you uncomfortable which means that his shady behaviour is now impacting others around him. If not nipped in the bud now it might lead to other, riskier episodes. At the very least, it sounds like he's either bored or overstressed which is something that may need to be addressed. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt, assume it was the first time and a very stupid mistake and send that anonymous email? And then keep a very close eye on him for a while.
posted by LeeJay at 8:46 PM on July 6, 2006


I said:

I've always considered watching porn at work to be sexual harassment.

borkingchikapa:

That statement is completely retarded.

Why is that? It seems that a fairly substantial cross-section of people feel that a man watching pornography at work makes for a sexually uncomfortable atmosphere. Do you agree that a reasonable person might find it offensive, unwelcome, and/or intimidating? If not, then my first question would concern what type of porn you're envisioning. Plain old straight sex? Bondage? Maybe lolita fantasies? Rape fantasies? Could a reasonable person feel intimidated by somebody watching simulated rape at work? Where do you draw the line? Please understand that I don't mean to place any judgment on those who enjoy such images at home or with other like-minded people, but I mean merely to argue that actions that a reasonable person would see as contributing to a sexually hostile environment should be considered as sexual harassment. And while I believe that the "you know it when you see it" standard is vague and problematic when it comes to the law, I somehow have no trouble understanding the fact that many people find images of flesh to be wholly different from spreadsheets and lines of code. If that's retarded, well, grab me a friggin' juicebox.
posted by dsword at 11:35 PM on July 6, 2006


My guess is this is a male vs female point of view debate.
posted by zackdog at 12:25 AM on July 7, 2006


Film the whole event and post it to YouTube.

(Pretending for a moment that was a serious suggestion) Right, so because laws/rules about watching porn at work were broken by the OP's coworker, let's have the OP break privacy laws? Sounds like a lot of fun, but your example was between roommates, not coworkers. Plus, it would make it look like giving a little too much attention to Johnny Porno, and embarass the OP a lot more than a simple email or verbal warning.

Well, since we seem to be participating in an informal poll of sorts at this point, put me down in the "don't get him fired but let him know discreetly that you saw what he was doing and he should really not do it again" camp.

Same here. Although my preferred course of action would be to completely ignore the incident. Either it was a one off or he will continue to be dumb enough to watch porn on the cubicle monitor, in which case he'll likely get caught by more people if not management directly, and they're the ones in a position to sort that out and take decisions, not me. I wouldn't feel it's my place to get involved, but that's also because I cannot see how this is in the 'sexual harassment' category, other than by legalistic acrobatics. The guy wasn't sending porn around as email attachment or showing it to everybody as a sexual invitation, he was convinced no one was seeing him. It wasn't intentional that the OP was made uneasy by this.
posted by funambulist at 1:39 AM on July 7, 2006


"Any 'consequences' that arise from that for Johnny P. are a result of Johnny's actions, not the OPs. "

No, and that's retarded to suggest. While JP's viewing habits would be the underlying cause of him getting fired, the proximate cause, the catalyst, would be the OP's actions.
The OP is not a robot, and has even more free will here than JP (as JP has already acted).
posted by klangklangston at 1:42 AM on July 7, 2006


Obviously this is a point on which we disagree, and while I do disagree with yours, I don't think it's 'retarded' nor would I use such a loaded word in what was, otherwise, a civilized conversation. I can see your point, I just think the blame here belongs with the person who actually did something wrong and the task of determining what punishment is appropriate for doing something wrong should fall to the people who actually have the authority to, you know, determine what punishment is appropriate. The idea that the OP can or should take the moral responsibility of judging what's right for the entire company in this situation is suspect to me.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:07 AM on July 7, 2006


My second inclination was to quietly tell my female coworker, partly as a reason for my dumb-struck meeting ending and partly for my own sanity.

I would do this, without necessarily naming Johnny Porno (although the computer in question may be obvious from where you were sitting). Maybe also ask what you think you should do, again without naming names. And Skorgu has the rest of it right:

I would split the difference. I would leave him an anonymous, office-printed note. Something to the effect of "A word to the wise your screen is more visible than you think." I would then notify my/his boss that I have seen a co-worker watching hardcore pornography, that I don't have any particular issue with it but that I realize that it may be a problem for the company as a whole and no I'd rather not name the person.
posted by mediareport at 7:27 AM on July 7, 2006


I don't think that the OP should take the moral responsibility of judging what's right for the entire company in this situation but I do think that there are consequences to everyone's actions. The OP could indeed go to the boss and maybe he/she should but doing that does not absolve one of any moral responsibility for one's actions. It's not that I'm anti-bosses per se, but more that I cannot stand this increasingly prevalent culture of 'it's not my responsibility, someone else should take care of this'. I agree that it's work and there are rules, but this is a small company so it would seem that everyone has a greater share of the responsibility than would be normal in a larger company (although the OP hasn't posted again so I can only base this on the OQ). Doing something about this situation may be more than the OP's job but I would like to think that we're not all grown-up kids desperately trying to find someone else to take responsibility. I know that I'm making a larger point and that some of it may not be totally pertinent to this discussion, but there it is.
posted by ob at 7:33 AM on July 7, 2006


Without adding to any of the moral judgements, to all the people who keep repeating the mantra "it's porn, at work"...the 'problem' is larger than I think you realize. According to some research, 30% of people have intentionally surfed for porn at work.
posted by nomisxid at 10:28 AM on July 7, 2006


LarryC writes "Film the whole event and post it to YouTube."

Don't forget to post the YouTube link to projects thereby allowing someone to put it on the front page to complete the circle and getting the Ask-MeFi-MeTa trifecta.
posted by Mitheral at 12:55 PM on July 7, 2006


Write (type) a note and leave it on his desk, unsigned. The note should read "Watching porn at work will get you fired."

Say nothing to him or his boss.

That's the classiest way I can think of to do it without being "that" person that all the other people in the office (wrongly) then label as a troublemaker.

If he continues watching the porn after that, maybe take it further up the ladder, but try the finesse approach first. Yeah, he's an idiot for doing it at work, and perhaps a total creep, but why potentially crush his career over some "drive by" porn you saw?
posted by jwhowa at 8:26 PM on July 7, 2006


On one hand I like jwhowa's approach. But here's the flaw: "If he continues watching the porn..."

So, what, the OP takes responsibility for monitoring JP's screen? What's to say that JP hasn't been busted and let off by every other employee at the company?

No. Your company would have policies in place. It's likely that you signed something to state that you were aware of these policies when you were employed. Report what you saw, state that you weren't offended and aren't lodging a complaint if that is the case, or lodge a complaint if that is the case, and let the system deal with it.

The boss has discretionary power and, as others have said, the responsibility for creating and maintaining a healthy workplace. It is a dereliction of your duty as an employee and deliberate sabotage of your employer's work if you take this into your own hands (so to speak).

Workplace policies don't just protect potential victims, they will even protect JP. Most likely he will have a chance to explain himself, and if it was a one-off or a mistake, he'll have his chance to work it out with management. This is least likely to taint you if you do things by the book.

In my view, this is the only sustainable course of action.
posted by Lucie at 5:56 AM on July 8, 2006


Is watching porn at work sexual harassment? It can be, if it creates a "hostile work environment." Sexually explicit material that is observable by other people, regardless of attempts to conceal it, would probably qualify in many circumstances. (Remember that this is probably going to be a jury's call.)

Only if the material is successfully concealed (i.e., fully encrypted, viewed with door shut, shades drawn, and no one actually knows it's happening) would it dodge the "hostile work environment" issue.

Johnny P. clearly has a judgment problem, though. The people who work with him don't find this acceptable; he's doing this on company time, company equipment, knowing that other people *might* be able to observe him (otherwise, why the furtive glancing?) and here's the kicker - he's exposing the entire network to the digital equivalent of the clap.

Only the boss can decide whether or not this is a firing offense. But if the original poster cares a whit about the company, notifying the boss or AT A MINIMUM dropping an anonymous note to the offender is in order.
posted by mikewas at 6:16 PM on July 8, 2006


This is a firing offense. The company is liable for a sexual harassment lawsuit. Report him and have him fired.

Since it's a startup, and you are having to do more with fewer people, do you really want somebody whose judgment is so poor,
and who is wasting so much time, threatening the financial future of your struggling business? I certainly wouldn't.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 5:43 PM on May 16, 2007


You keep shouting it's a huge fucking deal, but you didn't yet exactly say why. Apart from stealing company time and bandwidth, which I guess you are doing as well as we speak here on MeFi.

1) In my original comment I quite clearly described why: this behavior constitutes sexual harassment in the extreme.

2) I'm an independent contractor, you presumptuous ass, and as such the only time and bandwidth I'm wasting is my own.
posted by ChasFile at 4:40 PM on July 1, 2007


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