When IT finds someone’s been browsing offensive Web sites on a work computer, you’d normally fire the employee. But what happens when it’s a computer several employees share?
That’s what happened in this recent case:
All employees in one department of a hospital shared a computer. Employees each had their own username and password, and company policy required them to log in under their own name and log out when they were finished.
But in practice, the first employee to use the computer would normally stay logged in all day, with all employees working under that name.
During one shift, an employee noticed pornographic sites in the computer’s Web browsing history. She complained to HR, who brought the matter to IT for an investigation.
It turned out that the only male employee in the department was logged in to the computer at the time the porn sites were visited. He denied going to the sites, citing the common practice of all employees sharing one login ID.
A further investigation showed the man was the only department employee scheduled to work on a day when some some of the sites were browsed. He was fired.
Still, he said he didn’t do it — and he sued the hospital for gender discrimination, claiming they assumed he viewed the pornography because he was the only male employee.
The company asked a judge to toss the case, arguing it conducted a thorough investigation before the employee was fired.
The court agreed. First, since the man was logged in to the computer at the time, it was reasonable to start the investigation with him. And the list of possible perpetrators was narrowed down even further by comparing employees’ schedules with the times the sites were accessed, giving the company good cause to fire the employee.
Lesson: When multiple employees share one computer, it’s smart to create a policy requiring individuals to log in and out. But to track activity, the company still has to enforce the policy. If the hospital had done that in this case, it may have avoided the lawsuit altogether.
Cite: Farr v. St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers