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The acceptable face of porn in the office


Most HR professionals will have no issue with disciplining employees who access porn in the workplace.  The majority of businesses will have an IT policy that specifically warns employees that such action is prohibited.  The reason behind this (apart from the obvious distraction it may pose) is the potential for sex discrimination claims to arise from offended employees.

However, the current phenomenon sweeping the nation in the form of the '50 Shades of Grey' trilogy raises a few legal queries (as well as eyebrows) in respect of the acceptability of porn. 

50 Shades of Grey

For those of you who have been living in a hole for the last month or so, the book currently heading towards the top of the book charts revolves around the (very) personal life of a woman who is involved in a relationship with a millionaire with a penchant for dominator/submissive tendencies.  The newspapers have featured individuals professing that the book has re-invigorated their sex lives and it is fast becoming the talk of the town.  Becoming the talk of the town means the talk of the workplace.  So how do you deal with the issue of the book rearing its head on the book list at the workplace Book Club, or the secretaries gossiping about re-living the book last weekend after a few drinks?

Book Club

No-one intends to gag (no pun intended) employees from reading books of their choice.  Books involving sexual content are nothing new. Tess of the D'Urbervilles pushed its boundaries for the day.  Most Book Clubs are run by employees in their spare time and are not work related.  However, if the Book Club is carried out on work premises or is 'approved' by work, it may be worthwhile advising staff that they are free to participate in the club or particular books if or when they wish and to bear in mind that the books are not vetted in advance and are chosen by the majority of those involved.  They may therefore contain items of a sexual, offensive or violent nature.  Should they choose to participate then any offence caused (if any), has been with their participation and consent.

Gossip  

Talking about the contents of a book is one thing, listening to verbal re-enactments is another !  A quiet word may be sufficient to douse the flames of the over eager and enthusiastic.  Should the comments continue, disciplinary action may be necessary.  After all, lewd conduct wouldn't be tolerated in the workplace, so why should talking about it in the workplace be any different if the effect is to make people feel uncomfortable?

Facebook

Hopefully, your social media and IT policy will cover the issue of Facebook.  Describing your private life in glorifying detail is up to the individual concerned. Splashing lurid details of your encounter with a work colleague at the office/client party to your work colleagues and beyond on Facebook and the like, and bringing your employer into disrepute, should all be legislated for in your social media policy in conjunction with your disciplinary procedure.

Bullying / Harassment

For those who prefer the less 'vanilla' side of events but have discretely gone about their business, there shall be nothing to alert other employees so as to result in bullying and harassment.  However, we have certainly come across situations where employees have discovered work colleagues on swinging websites and the rumour mill has continued apace.  Employers have a duty to ensure that their employees are not bullied in the workplace and, again, any bullying and harassment policy should ensure that employees are protected against bullying per se, not only where such bullying is linked to a protected characteristic such as gender, race, age etc.   

Maternity rights

There is expected to be a baby boom as a result of this book, the miserable summer and the celebration/ commiseration of the various summer sporting events.  HR professionals would be well advised to brush up on their knowledge of maternity rights prior to the influx of announcements.  

Whilst pornography is not generally acceptable in the workplace, sexual issues can encroach in more subtle ways that require some careful handling. 

We would say consult an expert before taking action but that may not be appropriate!  A lawyer should suffice !

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.