The recent case of Conservative MP Neil Parish, who was caught watching pornography in the House of Commons, has brought the unusual issue to light.
And, just in case you thought it was an isolated incident, a 2020 survey found that an estimated 1.5m individuals had watched porn on a work phone, tablet, or laptop at some point in their career. Before you run off to trawl through your employees’ phones and files, here’s how you should respond if you discover an employee has been viewing adult content while at work:
While it may be tempting to jump straight to a dismissal, you should always carry out a full investigation. Suspending an employee while you conduct this investigation is an option, particularly if having them at work would impact the process. Your duty of care to your workforce means that you should take all reasonable steps to protect them from harassment. Watching or downloading porn at work could easily create an unpleasant environment for staff to work in. Bear this in mind, as mishandling the issue could lead to a tribunal claim. You can be held vicariously liable for an employee’s actions.
With this in mind, don’t delay taking action. Suspend the employee if you feel its necessary and begin an investigation as soon as possible.
Policies & procedures
Next, refer to your IT policy or use of company equipment. It should state that watching or downloading porn is strictly forbidden. It should also outline this behaviour as gross misconduct. Meanwhile, your policies on conduct should outline the process your business will follow in cases of gross misconduct.
If a claim is made against you, you’ll need to demonstrate you took all reasonable steps to prevent the incident from happening. This is where your policies and procedures will back you up.
If the wording of your documentation is unclear, we can help it become clear, concise, and compliant. Speak to one of our documentation team for assistance on 01455 858 132.
Conduct an investigation
Of course, dismissing an employee is different to removing an MP. When conducting your investigation, you should speak to all relevant witnesses and give the individual a chance to state their case.
While conducting the investigation, you should try to gather information to answer the following questions:
- Has the employee wasted company time?
- Has the employee brought the organisation into disrepute?
- Has the employee created a toxic work environment?
- Do the employee’s actions constitute harassment?
To clarify, sexual harassment is defined under the Equality Act 2010 as behaviour which is:
“of a sexual nature which violates the employee’s dignity, or creates a degrading or humiliating environment.”
Hold a formal meeting with the employee. Don’t inform them of your decision via text or email. Make sure they’re aware that they have the right to be accompanied, and the right to appeal the decision.
If you have decided to dismiss, follow the steps in your disciplinary process to ensure it is done fairly.
Once the dismissal is complete, it is worth conducting a review to see how you can ensure a similar incident doesn’t occur again. This might involve a full review of your IT policy, privacy settings, handbooks, contracts, etc.
Is viewing pornography at work gross misconduct?
In most cases, yes.
However, to support this claim, you should define what you class as “gross misconduct” in your company handbook. This way, there is a no room for manoeuvring on behalf of the employee.
Managing gross misconduct in the workplace
Whenever gross misconduct occurs, difficult conversations need to happen. Often, it’s hard to approach employees regarding the issues, and even harder to follow through on disciplinary action.
If you need support, advice, or someone to step in and conduct meetings for you, we’ve got you covered. Speak to a Croner HR consultant today for full details on how we can support you throughout the disciplinary process on 01455 858 132.
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