Human Resources News & Insights

Exec views dirty photos at work: Firing offense?

Internet Computer Usage

Managers and HR pros know the Internet can create a big productivity dip. But where should the line be drawn?

That’s the question the National Parks Service (NPS) recently faced after a top official was found to be viewing inappropriate images on his work computer.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) conducted an investigation after John A. Latschar, superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, was accused of criminal and ethical misconduct.

The investigation included a forensic search of Latschar’s computer. Apparently, he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing — but investigators did discover that Latschar had made a habit of viewing pornography at work. In fact, the evidence showed he’d viewed a total of 3,456 inappropriate images over a two-year period.

Like most employers, the NPS has a policy against that type of Internet use. Was Latschar fired? At first, no — he says he was given a five-day suspension without pay.

But after the Washington Post wrote about an internal memo discussing Latschar’s “significant innapropriate user activity,” the penalty got much stiffer. Latschar is now being demoted to a desk job, which means he’ll lose the prominent post he held for 15 years.

What was the better course of action — the original suspension or the demotion? Or, should Latschar have just been fired?

Over two years, 3,400 images averages to about eight to ten images a day — probably wasting less time than a lot of your employees do checking Facebook, shopping online or whatever else they do on the Web. But the obvious difference is the content Latschar was viewing, which could have put the company at risk for a sexual harassment charge.

What’s your company’s policy on innapropriate Web browsing? How would you have handled a situation like this? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • Sallie Ziskin

    At our company, we fired the employee who was looking at porn on our computers. He looked at porn during work hours and came in on weekends to view more! Probably didn’t want his family to know what he was doing.

  • Melinda

    We have filters on our computers so no one can access social networking sites or videos of any kind. It would be tough for someone to get past the filters for pornography without a considerable time investment and deliberate action. I, for one, am glad to have the filters. If I had access to Facebook, Twitter, etc. I would be accessing my sites regularly throughout the day. Depending on who I was corresponding with, that access could take 30 seconds or 3 hours. I also don’t set my home page to anything but Google, because I get sucked into the news and can spend 20 minutes reading through the news before I “wake up” that I’m doing it. I consider myself to be very “honest” about my Internet usage, but I appreciate the system set up so I can’t lose sight of my real purpose of computer use at work–to work!

  • Judy

    At my company, we did let one person go (after several warnings) for viewing inappropriate websites (porn) as well as downloading music from the web. The real kicker is we deal with children in crisis and while it wasn’t child porn it was porn so we could not let is go with a suspension especially as they were warned about this several times. They had the gall to be shocked when terminated and to also file an unemployment claim against us. Needless to say they did not get unemployment.

    And may I say we do have filters on our computers but this person found a way to get around them. The filters are quite extensive as I have been blocked from perfectly legitimate sites because of some keyword or tag associated with the site. This includes sites that I am trying to access for work purposes.

  • Cheryl

    Who monitors the person who monitors the computers for pornographic websites? I know! It’s the fox who guards the chicken coop.

  • Lisa

    We have good filters, but if someone were to work their way around them, they would be fired immediately for A) violating our computer security policy, B) using computers for unprofessional purposes. Several warnings seems dangerous. If the policy is explicit and states clearly that any pornographic activity on work time is a dischargeable offense, it keeps the company from having liability for not acting, or encouraging the behavior. I realize that most will spend a moment or two surfing (one warning) but if someone is on long enough to be caught twice, they are spending a lot more than moments. We are very clear in our orientation that this, along with theft, sexual harrassament etc.. have zero tolerance and are clearly unacceptable behavior. Most people follow the rules if they are spelled out clearly from the beginning.

  • http://HRMorning Harry

    So they put him on a desk job, SO HE WOULD HAVE MORE TIME TO LOOK AT PORN, WHAT A CONCEPT…FIRE THE SOB! HE APPARENTLY IS A SICKO ANYWAY, GET RID OF HIM AND ANYONE ELSE THAT DOES THAT!

    Whether or not you agree or not with me, what else does the person do! At what point do you fire someone, after 4000 times. Anyone that does this is a live ticking bomb waiting to get you a real law suit for your company.

  • Cheryl

    Harry, I agree with you 100% he should be fired. Not only that, he should’ve been fired twelve years ago when he was written up for downloading pornographic images. Now, he’s in charge of our IS Department. That’s what I mean when I say, “who’s monitoring the person who monitors our computers?”

  • Terrence

    Cheryl, you found one of the very few lone oddballs. I work as CTO and CIO for a consulting company. Virtually all of our time is spent looking into resolving problems that you haven’t yet seen – so that you won’t see them. And as for the other people in my field (looking back some two and a half decades), they too seek just the same thing. They’re simply too busy solving issues that users may come up with.

  • Paul

    Sorry, ladies and gents, this is over-reacting.

    A 5-day suspension is adequate for a first (and final) warning. The fact that the Washington Post jumped in on this, and the punishment changed after that is just proof that a reasonable decision was changed to an unreasonable one for the sake of political correctness, and that’s just bunk.

    I realize that “one event = termination” may be appropriate in some settings (religious organizations. etc) and some actions – violence, threats, etc. may be “sentinel events” that trigger a suspension and investigation that may result in termination, but we owe it to the company to be the voice of reason.

    This may not need to go through Multiple levels of corrective action, but to go for immediate termination or a career-ending demotion is not proportional response in corrective action.

    HR needs to have the clarity to ask “what’s reasonable” vs politically expedient.

  • Phil in Orlando

    Right you are Paul. Looking at porn on your work computer is wrong (and stupid) but it does not deserve termination or demotion. Sounds like, as usual, the company is using a obviously bad event to justify taking severe action against an employee that is a poor performer.

    I see this all the time in managers, they have a poor performing employee but instead of taking action all along, they wait for some “big problem” and use that as a reason to demote or terminate.

    The employee should go through progressive diciplinary procedures, as he should for anything else that does not warrent immediate termination, as noted in company policy statements.

  • Sallie Ziskin

    As a female company owner and I have an imagination of what was going on in the chair while my offender looked at his prono. Had his chair thrown out with him! It is horrific to know that someone down the hall is a pervert and doing perverted things. I have to consider the wellbeing and safety of my staff. His office was contaminated and got a thorough cleaning but the memory is still there. How can anyone give someone like this a 2nd chance? I would not expose my staff to this being. How would you like your daughter, wife, sister, mother, etc. working with this guy? This is not a forgivable “man thing” in the work environment. There is just too many things to worry about with this type of offender around. As the employer, I have much better use of my time then to be distracted by him!

  • Peter Turai

    Sallie, while viewing pornography may be objectionable to you personally and was a violation of workplace policy for this man, that does not make him a pervert or offender. Pornography, like it or not is for the most part legal for viewing by adults. There was no idication that what he was viewing was not of the legal type. And while you’re welcome to use your imagination to “fantasize” in any way you like, your assumptions of what other activities were going on in his office are pure conjecture. Just curious… are men who view Playboy or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition also to be treated as social paraiahs not to be exposed to our female friends and family?

  • Kevin R

    I agree with Paul 100%. If their policy had been termination then so be it. That would definitely have been appropriate. However, they waited until the media became involved to decide to terminate. That’s wrong!!

    Did anyone notice they didn’t mention the wasted productivity spent responding to blogs?

  • Sallie Ziskin

    Peter – There is a time and place for everything.

    Playboy, Hustler, etc. would not be allowed in my workplace nor sexy calendars, posters, etc. Obviously sex was on his mind and his need for porn was so intense he had to do it during business hours. That is a pervert to me and an offender in the making!

  • mike R

    Funny that no one wonders what qualified as “porn.” I’m sure that everyone has an image that comes to mind, but i’m sure it is not the same for everyone. I find that what one person considers porn another would not. I think about the family man who had photos of his kids in the bath and was charged with child pornography. It was a ludicrous charge, but half thorut it was right while another half thought it was wrong. The wife had the pictures with her as well and they were “cute” and not sexually suggestive. Some consider the models for various promotions who may be in a bikini as sexually suggestive and “soft porn.” I have pictures of sculptures (naked) in my office, omg is THAT porn? They are from the museum pamphlet.

    When trying to decide what is porn, it was said that it is hard to define…but I know it when I see it.

    Also, take into consideration that some sights down load pictures that don’t get erased when viewing a site. You can easily click on one link in an email and have a sight pop up with 500 jpg files downloaded. If you have ever gotten one of these bogus emails and clicked the link, you could be fired based on the discussion here. It was not said that he viewed porn every day. That was supposition. It was a breakdown of the porn images that were found over a two year period.

    Of course, for those who KNOW it when you see it, you probably have improper pictures on your computer and not even know it. You won’t cry foul until unreasonable demands and accusations surround you.

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