This advice column offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector.
Nonprofits are not immune from unethical computer use
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 upsetting. Plus, I actually saw the questionable material he was viewing; I have no doubt some of our co-workers were also subjected to this window into his personal sexual tastes.
This guy has worked with us for years and he cares about our mission. How do I best address this issue?
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 incident, when I was CEO, involved a marketing employee who thought it was a great idea to send a pornographic video clip to all his co-workers. Of course, I immediately fired him for sexual harassment and violation of our company policies regarding personal internet use at work. The marketing employee was NOT happy and got very verbally abusive to me when he was dismissed. While all that was unpleasant, nonetheless it was an important modeling for the entire staff in how high the priority was to interrupt such illegal, inappropriate and harassing activities.
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 or the anger of the abuser.
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 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. As well, there is ample evidence that the production of pornography can involve the abuse of children and adults.
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/she cannot erase his/her 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, immediately fire him/her. 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. Your employee, in exposing his co-workers to such materials, is guilty of sexual harassment. Regardless of his reasons, this behavior is totally unacceptable.
This is not legal advice, so if in doubt, consult an attorney. Just don’t ignore this issue.
The Observer (U.S): 9 crazy stats that prove we watched a whole lot of porn in 2016 by Sage Lazzaro (2017)