Caught watching porn at work: So why did he get his job back?

This case had “you’re fired” written all over it. A teacher was caught watching and emailing porn at work. But a judge ruled he could get his job back. Why? 

First, the details: As a result of an investigation, seven school district employees in Middleton, WI, were caught viewing and sharing pornographic material online using the district’s equipment. Middle school teacher Andrew Harris was fired, and others were given suspensions or reprimanded.

The Middleton Education Association appealed the firing to an arbitrator – which is where things fell apart for the school district.

The arbitrator overturned the firing, instead suspending Harris for 15 days. He could get his job or a similar position back within a month.

Why was he fired?

On the face of it, this seems ridiculous. Clearly this was a fireable offense.

But where the school district’s argument fell apart was that it hadn’t enforced its policies equally.

Several employees were caught doing the same thing, but as the arbitrator observed:

[Other employees were] doing the same or similar types of things — viewing pornographic materials in various ways, receiving inappropriate emails, forwarding them to others, failing to discourage the senders, attempting to or in fact accessing inappropriate websites.

The fact that he was discharged while others were suspended or received written reprimands or nothing at all, the discharge cannot stand.

Adding insult to injury, the school district will also have to fork over money for costs associated with the case.

Enforce policies equally

Don’t get the wrong idea: This case doesn’t mean that IT managers can’t discipline users for going against policies.

What it does emphasize is the importance of enforcing policies for everyone across the board.

Make sure to:

  • Avoid focusing on individual users. If you’re going to be checking for policy violations, audit your entire user base’s behavior. Targeting individuals may seem like discrimination to a court.
  • Enforce policies equally. Look carefully at past policy decisions when disciplining for violations. If a case requires heightened actions, what makes it different from those in the past.
  • Document decisions carefully. Record every instance of a policy violation and the steps taken to address it. This can protect you in court.
  • Consult with HR. This is a must. They’re the policy and discipline experts, and they need to weigh in on each and every decision.

Make Smarter Tech Decisions

Get the latest IT news, trends, and insights - delivered weekly.

Privacy Policy

Related Posts