Cracking the whip on porn at work


27 May 2004

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Two out of five Irish companies have had to sanction staff because of incidents involving pornographic material in the workplace, a new survey has uncovered. It has also emerged that a similar percentage of managers are unaware of their own liability over inappropriate images at work.

The findings were revealed as part of a survey conducted by PixAlert with the Irish Software Association and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. PixAlert is a Dublin-based company that develops software for monitoring when illegal or pornographic images are being viewed on desktop PCs.

Survey respondents showed an understanding of the legislation surrounding their organisation’s ownership of content in the workplace, although 42pc were unaware of their potential personal liability as company managers or directors. “Awareness of legislation was pretty stark; people accept that the company is liable in the event of sexual harassment claims, for example, but many didn’t realise they could personally have a criminal or civil exposure to it,” said Dave McLoughlin, a director with PixAlert who authored the report.

Whereas more than 90pc of the companies surveyed have an acceptable computer use policy in place, in almost one third of cases, the document that covers management of inappropriate and illegal images is out of date. That is, while a policy may cover traditional points of vulnerability such as downloading images from the internet, it may not take into account the possibility that dubious content could arrive from other sources such as memory sticks, DVDs or camera phones.

A recent employment tribunal case saw how an employee admitted to having inappropriate material in an open office environment but the person claimed that because it had been brought in on a CD-Rom, no breach of company policy had occurred. “There’s a question of exposure for companies,” said McLoughlin. “Your computer use policy might say that downloading unsuitable images from the internet is not permitted but what it really should be saying is that staff are not allowed to have inappropriate material on their desktop PCs.”

One in five companies have no technology to manage inappropriate or illegal content, the report found. “The point of the survey was to raise awareness of these issues,” said McLoughlin. “There has been a huge growth in digital media such as cameras, memory sticks and 3G phones. The technology to monitor that has been slow to catch up. You need to monitor at the desktop and not just at the gateway to a company’s network.”

The PixAlert Survey into the management of inappropriate images in the workplace was carried out in April and was responded to by 82 executives from 75 Irish companies. Broken down by category, more than 40pc of respondents were from companies with greater than 250 employees. Over 90pc of respondents were from private sector companies. Those replying to the survey included senior managers, IT directors and human resources directors. The survey set represents a cross-section of businesses in Ireland: 63pc were multinational companies, 32pc were private indigenous firms, 2pc were public sector organisations and 3pc were other groups.

By Gordon Smith