Lifestyle

Is it ok to surf porn at work?

The real issue isn’t porn, but the use of office bandwidth for private purposes.

(Photo: Jacom Stephens)

The head of Houston’s public transit agency was recently suspended for a week for using the agency’s Internet connection to look at porn. This sort of conflict is likely to become increasingly common, since the only thing more ubiquitous in office settings than boredom are high-quality Internet connections, but as someone once said, “Let he among you who has a free hand cast the first stone.”

The point here is whether personal web-surfing at the office should be allowed at all. There’s all sorts of controversial stuff on the web, and porn, per se, is far from the worst. So surfing the web for non-business purposes should either be allowed, or not. Either could be a reasonable policy. But if employees are not allowed to use company Internet for personal use, that should be a clearly stated policy.

There are of course a couple of circumstances in which an employer would have a legitimate interest in limiting the kind of stuff employees access online. If an employee is downloading large porn files (say, entire movies), that kind of thing could have an impact on the firm’s bandwidth usage, slowing down Internet access for employees engaged in legitimate work. Of course, the same would go for employees downloading the latest episode of Breaking Bad on iTunes. A second circumstance would be if there is a chance that the porn would be publicly visible and reflect badly on the company. If for some reason the fact that you’re surfing porn at work could come to the attention of people outside the company, then you should avoid drawing potentially unwanted attention in that way. But in general, the fact that it’s porn and not LOLCats you’re looking at behind a closed office door shouldn’t much matter to your employer.

None of this is to say that surfing porn at work is a good idea. It’s generally pretty dumb, especially if there’s any chance at all that co-workers are going to see it and take offense. After all, we’re talking about the office, not your own living room. And so while employers have reason to allow their employees a certain amount of latitude, employees have even better reason to exercise a certain amount of reasonable discretion.