Danial Schwartz at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog posted yesterday on a case from the Second Circuit, which held that the mere presence of pornography in the workplace can be enough to create an objectively hostile work environment. Danial's point is similar to one that I wrote about couple of weeks ago, that businesses must take all harassment complaints seriously through prompt and thorough investigations. (See Remedial action must be meaningful to save employer from harassment liability).
Danial's post raises another important issue. Computers, email, and the Internet have become indispensable tools in most workplaces. They also make pornography readily available at the click of a mouse or the strike of a key. If courts are going to view the mere presence of pornography in the workplace sufficient to state a claim for sexual harassment, then employers must be vigilant about policing against it. This policing requires three important steps:
- Implement a technology use policy (which includes computers, email, and the Internet), which patently forbids the downloading, display, or viewing of pornography, and makes it a terminable offense.
- Incorporate training on the appropriate use of technology into your annual or every-other-year harassment training.
- Consistently enforce the policy.
As I've repeatedly said, there is no such thing as a bulletproof employer. Taking these three simple, proactive steps, however, will go a long way towards limiting your risk and exposure should an employee file a harassment lawsuit based on workplace pornography.