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Nonprofits are not immune from unethical computer use

Nonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.

What, if anything, should I do when I found illicit material on my nonprofit's work computers?

We have a very relaxed and small nonprofit, providing education and support re: environmental protection. We all know each other well and I would have sworn that no one would act in an inappropriate manner. Wrong!

I accidentally stumbled upon an employee watching an illicit video on his lunch break on our company computer. What people do in their private lives is none of my business, but this graphic material accessed at our great little organization is really un-nerving.

This guy is loved by all and cares about our mission. How do I best address this issue?

Gary says ...

Tell him to stop it and never bring that stuff inside the workplace again! Unfortunately, this is going on in all workplaces. It’s becoming a really big issue in today’s world of technology and instant access. If you see it happening at work, report it.

You are right about his private life and what he does in his own home is his own business. But, this guy is at work. His private life should be left at the front door when he reports to the office, lunch break or not. Pull him aside privately and let him know that you're aware of his inappropriate viewing. If it continues, go to your boss.

Kathryn says ...

This is a rampant problem. According to a 2014 survey conducted by Proven Men Ministries, "Nearly two-thirds (63%) of men admit to viewing inappropriate while their bosses assume they are busy working. More than a third (36%) of women are also sneaking a peak at porn while on the job." And a later 2016 research study, conducted by The Observer (U.S.), found that the amount of time spent on adult-only sites had significantly increased since 2012.

This same scenario has happened twice in my professional career: One viewer was my ex-boss, who had frozen his computer with downloads (our IT staff found his cache in trying to fix his machine). I couldn’t do anything about this, but my respect for this man plummeted: I was working long hours for our nonprofit and he was in his office watching dirty movies! The other, when I was CEO, was a marketing employee, who thought it was a great idea to send a verboten clip to all our co-workers (I immediately fired him for sexual harassment and violation of our company policies regarding personal internet use at work).

I would advise crafting very specific employee policies regarding personal use of the internet, including a termination policy regarding accessing or viewing sexually explicit material on company computers at any time. Be prepared to follow through on these policies regardless of the popularity of any individual employee.

I’m assuming you are the CEO; therefore, your job is to create and maintain a safe workplace for your entire team. If you stumbled on his personal entertainment session, others likely have or will in the future. This is potentially harassing to other employees.

Pornography viewing at work also costs time/money in lost productivity, estimated in the loss of billions of dollars, worldwide, on an annual basis.

Regardless of your personal views about pornography, in general (and there is much evidence that this industry can involve the abuse of adults and children who are unwilling participants in such material), you simply cannot afford to turn away from this situation. Your job is to avoid the waste of your nonprofit’s precious resources and avoid the possible harassment of your staff members and volunteers.

If you don’t have an existing policy on appropriate use of company computers, including accessing inappropriate, sexually explicit content, issue a written reprimand to the employee for using work technology to pursue personal, sexual interests. Warn him that he cannot erase his electronic trail and that another offense will result in termination. Then write up your policy and get board approval.

If you already have a strong policy, fire him (or, in other cases, her – it is estimated that 30 percent of adult materials viewers are women). At the very least, he has shown poor judgement and lacks a clear understanding of appropriate workplace behavior. At worst, he is an addict who simply can’t get through his day without feeding his reliance on porn.

This is not legal advice, so if in doubt, consult an attorney. Just don’t ignore this issue.

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