Can You Actually Get Away With Watching Porn At Work?

Photo: Rockie Nolan
There are growing calls for senior Tory MP Damian Green to step down amid allegations that porn was found on one of his House of Commons computers. As investigations continue – and it’s important to note that Green has strongly denied the claims – it raises the question: Can it ever be okay to watch porn at work?
A 2016 survey published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour found that over 16% of men have watched porn at work on their smartphone, while 5.4% admitted to having logged on with their actual work computer.
There aren’t statistics about women but a quick poll I did in the pub (yes, I am fun to hang out with) suggests most have never been workplace porn-watchers, while nearly every man I questioned had dabbled in content that's definitely NSFW. That’s despite nearly every organisation, large or small, having a rigorous internet policy that includes an unambiguous ban on porn.
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Olivia Flattery, director of The HR Department, Richmond & Hammersmith, says most employers would deem watching porn at work a matter of gross misconduct. “It could easily lead to dismissal,” Olivia says. “However, if an employee was watching porn during their lunch break on their own device it would be difficult to reprimand.”
It isn't only a question of whether or not you’d get sacked, it’s about how your colleagues might react. Olivia says there have been examples of porn in the office being handled as sexual harassment.
Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, explains: “Watching porn at work is damaging; it’s offensive and it does not send a message of trust and integrity.”
And it’s not just during office hours that it can land you in trouble; you might want to think twice before doing anything X-rated on your work laptop or phone, even when you’re at home.
However, in some industries, watching porn isn’t problematic, it’s just part of office life. Georgie works in a creative agency in London: “I often have colleagues huddled around a computer watching really explicit videos in the name of ‘research'. It happens to me too – there are no blocks at work and one link leads to another. It can create a bit of a weird atmosphere, but no one questions anything anyone watches.”
There might be grey areas of acceptability for those in the creative industries but for the vast majority of us, getting caught staring at screwing rather than spreadsheets would have serious repercussions.
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A receptionist was recently sacked from a state-run company which provides services to children after it came to light that she had accessed porn sites while at work. The Workplace Relations Commission deemed this decision to be justified as it put the organisation’s funding relationship with government services at risk.
Geoff Isherwood, legal services manager for the ELAS Group, explains: “Watching porn at work is often a sackable offence. Not only is the individual defrauding the company of time when they should be working, depending on the nature of what they are watching they could be doing illegal acts in work time and potentially bringing the company into disrepute.”
As the boundaries between work and home grow increasingly blurry – we check our work email from bed and browse ASOS during office hours – it can be easy to forget when it is and when it is not okay to log into YouPorn. So if you’re in any doubt, just stick to cat videos.
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