Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What can you learn from the law firm partner suspended for watching porn at work?

According to The American Lawyer (sub. req.), Hogan Lovells has suspended one of its partners in its London office for watching porn at work. How did it catch the offense?

In IT employee read his internet logs? No.

He forgot to close his browser when he went to the loo and his assistant walked into his office? No.

He visited an unsafe site that spammed his entire office with malware? No.

Would you believe that someone caught him through his office window? From RollonFriday:

On Monday morning a lawyer with Irwin Mitchell, whose London office is separated from Hogan Lovells by a narrow lane, looked out of their window and straight into the partner's office. Sources told RollOnFriday that the Irwin Mitchell lawyer was shocked to see the Hogan Lovells partner watching porn at his desk, with his back to the window.

The IM lawyer filmed the absorbed partner on a mobile phone, sources told RollOnFriday, and sent the footage to Hogan Lovells lawyers. It then made its way to the firm's HR. The partner has now been suspended.

Astoundingly, according to one survey, three percent of Americans admit to watching porn at work. And while three percent may not sound like a lot, I guarantee you are now doing the math and figuring out who the likely suspects are in your office.

What is an employer to do? After all, the mere presence of pornography in the workplace is enough to set off every sexual harassment alarm bell, and subject an employer to sexual harassment liability if it does nothing.

Hogan Lovells defends its own lack-of-a-policy:

We didn't block access to websites unless they represented a cybersecurity risk (e.g. they have malware on them). The nature of our work for clients sometimes means we need to carry out investigations in areas which require us to have flexible access. We have reviewed and tightened this policy.

So, what should you look for in "reviewing and tightening" your workplace-porn policy?

  1. What does your technology or internet-use policy say, does it include prohibitions against pornography, and does it sufficiently and clearly explain that violations will result in discipline, up to and including termination?

  2. Do you block websites that might include adult material, or do you trust employees to their own devices. Keep in mind that if you opt for the latter, many adult websites are rife with malware, viruses, and other things that you likely don't want on work equipment. Also keep in mind that if you opt for the former, you may need to provide for work-related exceptions (like an employment lawyer researching a case, and I speak from experience).

  3. If you are overly concerns that your workplace is rife with porn, you could opt for a porn audit, examining all of your technology assets for inappropriate material.

  4. Once you become aware of any pornography in the workplace, your obligation as an employer kicks in to promptly investigate and implement reasonable corrective action. Failure to act could subject you to a nasty and expensive sexual harassment lawsuit.

  5. Finally, if your investigation leads you believe that the pornography involves illegal activity (e.g., children), immediately stop and call your lawyer, as this is a serious issue that needs serious treatment. 

The internet might be for porn, just not at work, ever (unless you're an employment lawyer investigating a case).