Pornography/Offensive Pictures at Work
When a person is at work, their responsibility is to fulfill the function of their job. It is not to play games, check their personal email, or monitor their social media on their work computer. Above all, they should not be viewing pornography or sexually explicit photos while at work. A co-worker could become offended by the images they see.
Any type of sexually explicit pictures, even if they are drawn, can cause a co-worker to feel uncomfortable. There are instances when such images may be directed at a co-worker. Although there might have been a time when such antics were acceptable around the office, those days are gone. Displaying, viewing, and distributing such material can create a hostile work environment, which is a form of sexual harassment.
Those who attempt to function in a hostile work environment wherein one or multiple co-workers are freely and opening displaying offensive pictures should report these instances to their supervisor. If they are not having any luck reporting those cases to their employer, they should reach out to a sexual harassment lawyer who can explain their options for them.
Why is Viewing Pornography at Work Considered Sexual Harassment?
One should not be looking at pornography or sexually explicit pictures while at work. These items are not suitable for the workplace environment. Co-workers may become offended or even disgusted by the graphic images that are on display. Keeping such photos on display around one’s desk or on a screen can create a hostile work environment.
In a hostile work environment, workers feel uncomfortable and have difficulty concentrating on their job. They can become distracted and less productive than normal. Prolonged exposure to such an environment can cause emotional or mental distress leading to physical issues and work absences.
There can be some confusion as to when sharing sexually explicit photos crosses the line into harassment. An employee may send pictures to someone else in the office who would be more receptive to the photo. They might also accidentally send it to the wrong person, or they may not realize that the photo they are sending is offensive. Moreover, most employers will have a company policy against the sharing of sexually graphic images.
It is offensive if an employee is consistently sending the pictures to those who are offended by them despite constant requests that they stop. Although the other examples represent gray areas, many businesses tend to err on the side of caution. That means the person who sent the photos, regardless of it being intentional or not, could find themselves without a job. It is best to not send anything to anyone that may be considered offensive.
What are Examples of When it Crosses the Line into Sexual Harassment?
There are two primary categories where online pornography or sexually explicit phots can cross the line into sexual harassment. These categories are:
- Displaying: When images are displayed at work either on an employee’s computer screen or hung up in a location that everyone can see it. It becomes particularly egregious if it is displayed in an area where most co-workers congregate for meals or other breaks.
- Sending: When images are directly sent to another employee. This could be done by accident or as a deliberate act. This action could be meant to harass a co-worker or retaliate for actions they took part in over another incident.
There are a few instances when an employee has a clear case of sexual harassment. Those instances include:
- An employee catches the boss watching pornography on their computer in their office with the door open. The boss ignores requests from the employee to stop watching the video or close the door.
- A co-worker likes to send sexually offensive drawings around to the group. One co-worker does not appreciate them and asks to be removed from that chain. The person sending the pictures refuses and continues to send them. After complaints to the manager, the co-worker is mocked and taken off the team, limiting their financial prospects and career potential.
- A manager puts up a calendar in a common room with scantily clad women featured every month. One co-worker expresses issues with the calendar and asks that it be removed. The request is denied. As a result, the worker refuses to go into the common room anymore.
- An employee sends their co-worker a link to a pornography site via text. The recipient, not knowing the nature of the link, clicks on it. The person could be horrified by the images they see and personally offended and humiliated.
- A client sends several co-workers a link to a video with sexually suggestive images included. The videos make one person uncomfortable, who asks not to receive them anymore. The client continues to send them anyway. The employee reports the incident to their manager, who decides to remove the employee from that sales team, meaning they will not have the same access to certain lucrative deals.
When trying to develop a sexual harassment case, it may become necessary for the employee to collect evidence, including keeping copies of any offensive materials that were displayed in a common space or that were directly sent to a person.
What can an Employee Do When Faced with Sexually Explicit Images?
When faced with pornography or sexually explicit photos at work, an employee has the right to request that those images be taken down. They are inappropriate for the workplace, and they can be seen as offensive to many people. An individual who is personally offended by the imagery can confront the co-worker who put them up and request that they be taken down. If they refuse to do so, the employee can go to a manager or the supervisor who manages the co-worker displaying the images to express their disapproval.
The upset employee should obtain a copy of the employee handbook to find out what formal policies are in place at the company that prohibit such behavior. The company may have a procedure for how to handle these situations. The employee should follow that procedure when moving forward with their grievance.
To better support their case, a worker should collect evidence about the instances of pornography and sexually explicit material. When possible, they should collect the actual offensive material to be kept for their records. They should also chronicle their interactions with the co-worker who posted the material and their manager. These notes should include what was said, when it happened, and the response and reaction from the manager and the person posting the imagery. Everything should be copied and stored in a safe location offsite.
If the manager fails to resolve the situation, an employee can go to their Human Resources (HR) department to file a formal complaint. They can explain the situation to HR and let them know how the images made them feel. They can also offer suggestions as to how to resolve the situation, including requesting policy changes or even workshops to explain why such behavior is inappropriate.
HR may not provide an adequate solution to the situation, or a person may find themselves demoted, reassigned, or even fired for speaking out. In those instances of retaliatory action, there are outside agencies people can contact that can punish companies that fail to protect its employees.
There are federal and state agencies that work in conjunction with each other. On the federal side, a person can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In Pennsylvania, there is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC); in New Jersey, the agency is the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights for New Jersey.
Once these agencies have the complaints, they can give the person the approval to move forward with a lawsuit if the individual wants to take the case that far.
What are the Legal Consequences if I Look at Pornography at Work?
It is never proper to be viewing pornography in a traditional office environment. It can be considered a form of sexual harassment and/or violate an employer’s policy. As a one-time incident, it might be excused as a mistake, but it should not be happening at all.
There might even be specific policies in place against such activities. An employee viewing pornography can be terminated for those actions. If nothing else, they are not performing their job while looking at sexually explicit material.
Those viewing pornography can get their company into legal trouble if they continue to do it despite being asked by co-workers and managers to stop. Such actions can lead to a lawsuit against the company, which may wind up costing the company a significant amount of money.
There are instances in which a co-worker will deliberately watch pornography on their computer so that a specific person can see it. It could be done as an attempt to make that person feel uncomfortable or to embarrass them. In most instances, it is a man doing this to a woman. However, that is not always the case, as there have been instances of women doing it to men, and even women doing it to other women and men doing it to other men.
What can I Hope to Receive in a Lawsuit about Pornography?
If an employee is dealing with pornography or sexually explicit pictures from a co-worker and all other avenues have failed, they can also seek a remedy to the situation via filing a lawsuit.
They can bring about a lawsuit following the filing of a grievance with a government agency. Once approved, the lawsuit can go forward. However, an employee should not wait for this point to occur before hiring a sexual harassment lawyer. A lawyer should be contacted in the early stages of the situation. They can help guide an employee through the process and advise them on next steps.
When the lawyer files a lawsuit, they will go to the employers’ legal counsel to explain the employee’s requests. The requests will include monetary and non-monetary damages, such as:
- Lost wages: An employee who complains about pornography or sexually explicit photos might find themselves without a job, demoted, or reassigned to a less-profitable line of business. They might also quit their job out of frustration or take days off to avoid the situation. In either case, the employee can request that they receive the salary they otherwise would have received had it not been for the harassment.
- Medical expenses: For certain people, having to confront a co-worker over pornography on a regular basis can be harrowing and stressful. It could manifest itself into physical injuries that require medical attention, which can be recouped as part of a lawsuit.
- Emotional distress: It can be emotional when having to deal with a hostile work environment on a regular basis. That type of trauma cannot be diagnosed, which is why a lawyer will talk to their client about what their ordeal and assign a specific dollar amount to present to the company.
- Pain and suffering: As with emotional distress, an employee may have endured weeks or months of anguish that could have made other aspects of their life difficult. The lawyer will determine a proper amount to request to compensate for this stress.
- Reinstatement: If the plaintiff in the case found their employment situation negatively impacted in any way, they can seek to have their job reinstated, including their old position, salary, and responsibilities.
- Non-monetary requests: Finally, sometimes an employee will not want to deal with the situation again or have anyone else deal with it in future and demand that the company implement changes to how it handles these types of circumstances going forward.
There could be instances in which an employee does not wish to return to their job following a lawsuit. They may fear the environment may not be as welcoming if they return. It could also be that the position is no longer available, and they cannot return in their old capacity. Under those conditions, the plaintiff can request that the company pay for any job placement services they require.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Defend Employees Confronted by Pornography at Work
If you are dealing with a co-worker or manager who is constantly posting pornography or sexually explicit photos or they keep sending them to you, you do not have to accept with this behavior. You have legal options available to you. The Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will work with you to go over your options and help you execute them. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey, as well as in New York.