Do U.S. Workers Have Porn Problems?

Last week, a damaging report was released showing that dozens of employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission had spent significant time searching for pornography at work rather than policing America’s financial system. To make matters even worse, most of the 33 employees were higher-ups earning six-figure salaries. Not surprisingly, this caused quite a stir among our readers and the general public, who voiced their frustration that these government workers would ignore their serious responsibilities and waste tax dollars just to surf for porn.

“Why hasn't the SEC fired every one of these workers, including the highly paid senior leaders who showed such poor judgment and betrayed the public trust? In my (federal gov't) agency, not only is there a clear policy against viewing any such sites, but the consequence of violating it is swift and sure: dismissal. I'm outraged as a taxpayer about this, but I also can't believe the SEC has tolerated this outrage,” wrote one MainStreet commenter.

Over the weekend, it was announced that all of these employees will be punished. John Nester, a spokesman for the SEC, told The Wall Street Journal that each employee has been "disciplined or is in the process of being disciplined. Some have already been suspended or dismissed."

For some cynics out there, this story may fit comfortably with the stereotype of corrupt, do-nothing bureaucracies, but there is another issue here that should be discussed. Americans, and not just their government, may have a porn problem.

According to one recent Nielsen study, 29% of working Americans visited pornographic sites from their office computers. That works out to be more than 21 million Americans. That number has been rising steadily for the past few years. In 2007, 23% of workers accessed porn online at the office.

The examples of people looking at porn at work extend well beyond the government sector. In one instance earlier this year, a banker was caught on video looking at naked pictures. (Although in a way this seems fitting: SEC employees were too busy looking at porn to regulate the bankers, but some bankers may have been too busy looking at porn to dupe the SEC.)  And no, it’s not just an American problem either. One city employee in Japan visited porn sites nearly 1 million times in less than a year. Yet the recent SEC incident is certainly reason enough to take a harder look at our office behavior.

Whatever your stance on pornography may be, it’s difficult to defend actively seeking out porn while at work. Whether you are responsible for keeping the financial system in check, or just responsible for more mundane duties, there are essentially two big arguments against this kind of behavior. First, you are essentially stealing company time and money (but then again, the same is technically true when you check your personal e-mail or Facebook accounts). The real issue, however, seems to be that you run the risk of exposing others around you to inappropriate content.

As The Washington Times noted in an editorial piece earlier this year, “Employers are liable for activities done by their employees on company premises. Hence, if one sees a colleague viewing pornography and objects, the employer incurs a legal responsibility to ensure that the work environment is comfortable for all.”

But policing pornography can be complicated. As people have pointed out in various forums, what happens if you accidentally visited a pornographic site by typing in a bad domain name? Alternatively, what if someone e-mailed you an erotic link? Is this reason enough for a pink slip?

What do you think? Should employees be punished for looking at pornography on company time, or is this just a big overreaction? Is there such a thing as a right way to look at pornography at work? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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