Imagine this: You provide an employee with a computer for work purposes and have a policy against using it for personal means. The employee uses it to harass someone, and now you’re facing a lawsuit.
We’re not making this up — here’s what happened in a recent case:
Thomas Kobinsky and David and Patricia Sigler were neighbors. One day, David yelled at Kobinsky for allowing his child to urinate in the Siglers’ yard.
After the incident, someone anonymously placed ads for a business allegedly run by the Siglers that they didn’t own. Someone also signed up the Siglers for various subscriptions.
Police traced the source of the harassment to a computer at CUNA Mutual Insurance and found mailings and products in Kobinsky’s garbage can at work that had been ordered for the Siglers.
The Siglers sued CUNA, alleging negligent supervision and training. They argued that CUNA had a duty to prevent its employees from using company computers to harass others.
CUNA claimed the negligence argument lacked merit.
Lawsuit thrown out
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals agreed with CUNA and threw out the Siglers’ lawsuit.
The judge concluded that the Siglers didn’t show it was foreseeable that CUNA’s employees were likely to use company computers and access to the Internet to cause harm, specifically in this case to harass someone.
The court also said that even if CUNA had been negligent, the injury was too remote from the negligence. CUNA had no relationship with the Siglers.
Another interesting note about this case: The Siglers tried to use CUNA’s strict computer rules for employees against the company. They argued that because CUNA disciplined 14 of its employees in 2003 for Internet Technology related offenses, CUNA was aware of a foreseeable risk due to employee misuse of computers. The court didn’t buy that argument.
In effect, CUNA didn’t owe a duty to people with whom it didn’t have a connection to protect them from harassment from an employee using a company computer.
This case turns out well for companies: The court threw out the lawsuit.
But what if their employee had harassed another CUNA worker? Is it time for companies to update their policies to reflect that harassment can take place via computer? Let us know what you think. You can tell us your thoughts via the Comments Box below.
Sigler v. Kobinsky, Wisconsin Court of Appeals District IV, No. 2008AP29, 11/6/08.
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