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Business/Economy

One of my best employees was caught watching porn at work. Do I have to fire him?

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | The Workplace
  • Updated: June 6
  • Published June 3

Q: One of our new employees came into my office last week, closed the door and told me she didn't want to work with our best superintendent anymore and asked if there were any other position into which she could transfer. When I asked "why?," she declined to answer me.

I told her I knew "Ed" could be a tough son-of-a-gun to work for but she needed to learn how to handle guys with short tempers if she wanted to work in construction and that she'd learn a lot from him. She visibly recoiled and said if there were no other positions available, she'd resign. I took her resignation letter, which she'd already written.

I thought that was the end of it until this morning when I learned the departing employee had told the other young women in the office that Ed watched porn.

I pulled Ed in. He admitted it. I don't like what he's done, but he's our best superintendent and I don't want to lose him. How much trouble is my company in if I keep him?

A: That depends on how you handle this. If you don't discipline Ed for watching porn during the work day and stop him from doing it again, you allow a sexually hostile workplace. This gives any of your current or future employees who witness his porn the ability to sue you and win.

Porn watchers put their organizations at risk in multiple ways. In addition to potential legal liability, those who access porn websites often allow damaging viruses into their employer's network. Porn watchers waste work time and their habits damage morale and embarrass companies, alienating customers and depressing stock prices.

While many employers terminate managers who view porn, Ed owned up to his problem and if he's been a great, long-term employee, you may choose to work with him — as long as you eliminate the problem.

Start by establishing standards. Let every employee know you won't tolerate porn. If you decide not to fire Ed, you need to administer another significant disciplinary consequence or you undercut your standards.

Next, ask your IT to set up blocking and monitoring systems to detect pornography or inappropriate content. This alone doesn't eliminate the problem, as determined porn watchers with computer savvy can figure out how to get around any roadblocks. Ed or others can of course also download porn on their personal wireless devices during the work day.

Finally, have your IT team do a forensic computer scan to find out the extent of Ed's problem. If he accessed child pornography, don't give him a second chance, but instead report his activities to law enforcement.

Q: When I promoted "Alex" to sales manager, I knew there would be tension. Our best sales agents are ambitious and competitive and Alex has bruised a couple of the other sales professionals' egos. Still, he was the logical choice, given he won the lion's share of our company's 2017 sales contests. My other option was bringing someone in from outside who would need to learn our industry, and that would take at least six to nine months.

Alex was pleased, but wanted to make sure he'd still make his commissions. Since he's a top rainmaker, we told him we wanted him to keep selling and would simply bonus him for leading the team.

The problems started right away and haven't stopped. The other agents claim Alex takes the best accounts and plays favorites. Several have threatened to quit. I don't want to cave into demoting Alex based on these threats, but need to know how to turn this around.

A: You picked Alex based on his sales skills and drive. Did he have leadership skills? If not, you may need to move him back into a sales position or you'll lose other agents.

If you want to keep Alex in his new role, you need to change his goalposts. Alex likes to win; challenge him to become a leader. Let him know you'll no longer judge or reward him based on his own sales, but on his team's total sales. This eliminates the conflict of interest he now has when he allocates accounts between himself and his team. Finally, Alex needs what all new managers need — training.

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