Who Do I Tell About the Co-Worker I Caught Watching Porn?

63 percent of men and 36 percent of women watch porn at the office.

header-42

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We don’t want all that stress to get to you , though— or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

I walked into my coworker’s office last week to find him watching porn on his work computer. He had headphones on, but that actually made it worse, because he didn’t hear me knocking before I walked in. I don’t think he was doing anything, but it was on his screen. He blurted out an apology; I just mumbled something and left the room in shock. He’s not my direct manager, but he heads up a department that mine works alongside. I’m really not sure what to do now. Should I tell someone? — Brandy N., Racine, WI
There are so many moving parts to your question, I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with understanding just how prevalent this behavior is in the workplace. The most frequently cited survey done on the subject revealed that 63 percent of men and 36 percent of women watch porn at the office. Other fun facts in the survey: More married men than single men admit to watching it; men and women between the ages of 31 and 49 watch it the most. Given this data, what’s surprising is that more of us don’t catch our colleagues watching porn.

As for your response, it should be guided by ethical, legal and company policy considerations. Company policy is probably the most clear-cut: Almost every company has employment policies and/or separate technology policies prohibiting inappropriate use of company equipment. Some also install web blockers to prevent searching known porn sites — obviously not the case at your company. Remember, the company can trace your computer activities and that nothing is permanently erased in cyberspace. Other companies have taken disciplinary action for falsifying time cards under the argument that an employee can’t be working productively if they’re watching porn.

All of this probably makes what you saw cause for investigation and discipline. And not bringing it to someone’s attention (your boss’s, HR’s, etc.) makes you guilty of violating company policy as well (more on that below).

There’s the legal issue to consider, too. If someone is watching child pornography, that’s a federal/state/local offense, and you’re aiding and abetting that crime if you don’t report it. Then you have the issue of sexual harassment: If you know about a colleague watching porn and fail to report it, you may be disciplined for creating a hostile work environment since your inaction can cause another colleague to feel demeaned, offended and/or marginalized. In the current environment, the last thing you want to be known for is as a sexual harassment collaborator.

Finally, find your moral compass in this situation. If you don’t want someone else walking in on a similar scene, don’t let this person off the hook. If you confront your colleague, it may lead to an awkward exchange where they tell you to mind your own business or ask if you’d like to get a better of what they were watching. Either way, get someone in authority to deal with the situation. The workplace isn’t the place for porn, and you don’t want to be tagged as the person who did nothing to stop it.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at askterry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.