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Watching porn at work – what are the legal consequences?

‘If you are caught accessing such sites, this can amount to gross misconduct and immediate dismissal.’
‘If you are caught accessing such sites, this can amount to gross misconduct and immediate dismissal.’ Photograph: Getty Images/Hero Images

You could look at it as a strange, sordid barometer of workplace engagement; the demand among our elected representatives and their staff for pornography on the job. The latest stats are out and the good news is that the bizarre appetite has declined – a bit.

In the four months from June to October last year, there were 24,473 attempts to access pornography on devices connected to the parliamentary network, according to new figures obtained by the Press Association.

The attempts are picked up by filters, which blocked 113,208 attempts to access pornography in 2016. But there were more than 213,000 in 2015, almost 250,000 attempts in 2014 and an eye-watering 355,000 attempts in 2013.

It’s not clear whether unstable times allow for fewer recreational pursuits, or whether staff are wiser to the filters and the experience of Damian Green, who was removed from the cabinet after “misleading” statements about pornography allegedly found on his computers in 2008. “Given all these revelations, and that it’s well known these sites are blocked, I think anybody who wants to look at pornography on parliamentary computers must be mad,” says Keith Simpson, a Conservative MP.

Either way, workplace pornography makes other socially dodgy habits such as nail clipping and wind breaking seem charming by comparison. In most offices, “the viewing of pornographic material is usually listed as an example of internet abuse,” says Philip Landau, employment lawyer at Landau Law Solicitors. “If you are caught accessing such sites, this can amount to gross misconduct and immediate dismissal.”

But parliament is an odd place in many ways. MPs aren’t really employed by anyone, and recruit their own staff. Even so, there is a code of conduct and, in response to the new figures, a spokesperson claimed “the vast majority” of attempts were not deliberate.

Landau says the only way in which workplace pornography might be acceptable, in HR terms, is on a personal device, on the user’s own network, and in personal time and – crucially – as long as no one else is offended. But even this brings to mind unpleasant images of goings on in the gents on the third floor. So let’s all agree this: watching pornography at work is never OK.

This article titled "Watching porn at work – what are the legal consequences?" was written by Simon Usborne, for The Guardian on Monday 8 January 2018 02.35pm

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