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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Surfing for porn costs jobs
E-mail sign on keyboard
Sending porn e-mails could lead to dismissal
UK employers are spending more time disciplining staff over internet and e-mail abuse than any other office offence, a survey has found.

There was more disciplinary action taken over inappropriate surfing and sending pornographic e-mails in the last year than all the cases for dishonesty, violence and health and safety breaches put together.

Sex is the biggest no no in the office, with nearly two thirds of dismissals the result of accessing or distributing pornographic or sexual material.

The survey, conducted by law firm KLegal and Personnel Magazine, found only one reported dismissal for racial harassment via e-mail.

E-mail worse than surfing

Employees are nearly 10 times more likely to be dismissed for exchanging pornographic e-mails than for sending a message that contained damaging information about the company the survey said.

Jo Moore
Jo Moore: Leaked e-mail led to sacking
The three most commonly disciplined cyber crimes are excessive personal use of the internet or e-mail, sending pornographic messages and looking at porn websites.

Nearly 40% of those sending pornographic e-mails were sacked, although there appeared to be a more laissez-faire attitude to pornographic material on the web, with only 17% of those looking at such sites being dismissed.

Worries about what staff are doing online has led to a culture of suspicion in offices.

Around 20% of firms now monitor their employee's use of the net and e-mail on a daily basis.

One in 10 does not tell its staff that it is watching them even though there is a legal requirement to do so.

KLegal partner Stephen Levinson is shocked by the amount of time employers are spending on internet and e-mail abuse.


I'd much rather someone forwarded a smutty e-mail than my partnership accounts and both are equally easy to do

Robin Bynoe, lawyer
"All the time spent on disciplinary action for these offences is unproductive and my automatic reaction is to get software to stop it," he said.

Mr Levinson does think employers need to be a lot harsher with their staff, short of a blanket ban on personal use of the web and e-mail.

"They need to make it much clearer that they are watching and that there are sanctions," he said.

Claire Swire

Robin Bynoe from law firm Charles Russell thinks that some employers are over-reacting.

"I'd much rather someone forwarded a smutty e-mail than my partnership accounts and both are equally easy to do," he said.

He believes the key lies in educating staff about the dangers rather than rewriting the office rule book.

The most recent case of e-mail abuse involved computer firm Hewlett Packard, which sacked two and suspended 150 of its employees for sending inappropriate e-mails.

Most famously, Claire Swire became a reluctant celebrity when details of her sex life were forwarded around the globe by an employee at a London law firm.

See also:

17 Jul 02 | Business
02 Apr 02 | dot life
21 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
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