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How to discipline an employee who's watching porn at work

by , 20 September 2013
Sometimes an employee's conduct can be unacceptable. One of these intolerable situations is when an employee sends or receives pornography in the office. Read on to find out how to take action and still stay on the right side of labour law.

It's crucial you know what to do when your employee does something completely intolerable like sending or receiving porn at work.

But the big question is: Can you take disciplinary action against an employee who sends porn to a willing recipient in the company?

Yes!

It doesn't matter if the recipient had no objection to receiving the material.

The Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service explains that you're entitled to expect your employees to use company assets for company purposes. It's not to the benefit of your company for him to use company PCs and the internet system to send pornographic material.

This constitutes misconduct.

So what action should you take?

Here's what to do if an employee is sending or receiving porn at work

The disciplinary measures you'll take depends on your policies and procedures. Remember, if you don't have clear policies, your employee may simple plead ignorance.

Make sure you introduce the following provisions in your workplace:

  • Adopt a zero tolerance attitude towards the transmission of pornography or any undesirable electronic information.
  • Tell them such conduct unacceptable
  • Develop an internet policy.
  • Use electronic pop-ups reminding employees of the policy when they log on to their computers.
  • Tell them that you'll monitor email and in-boxes from time to time.
  • Confirm that the distribution of sexually offensive material is an offence.
  • Clarify that the punishment will be dismissal
  • Communicate the policies in writing to all your employees

You can dismiss your employee for misconduct if you have these policies and rules in place.

If you don't, give a first-time offender a final written warning.

Here's an example of how the courts have handled such matters: In Bosch vs Telkom (KNDB9359/04 unreported) it was found the misconduct was more serious if the distribution was widespread.

The dismissal was found to be fair.

This thinking was followed in Samson vs Toyota S.A Motors (Pty) Ltd KNDB14540/07 unreported).

Mr Samson worked in Toyota's IT department. Toyota has a clear policy stating the transmission of pornographic material is considered serious misconduct.

Mr Samson sent a series of pornographic pictures to a group mailing list. Some of the recipients weren't employed by Toyota. This, on its own, is serious misconduct.

A colleague at Toyota, who didn't know Mr Samson, received the email by mistake. He reported it, Toyota investigated and held a disciplinary enquiry.

Mr Samson said he didn't know his action was serious enough for dismissal. He denied all knowledge of the internet policy and said he didn't receive any warning employees that such transgressions could result in dismissal. He also claimed the electronic pop-up warnings didn't exist.

Toyota proved it communicated it gave its policy to all employees and used electronic pop-ups to remind them.

The dismissal was fair because the employee knew his actions were considered serious misconduct and could result in dismissal.

The point here is that you must communicate your policies!

Have clear policies and procedures in place. Make sure they're communicated to all your employees. This way they can't claim they didn't know about them if you take action.

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