News Advisor NSFW – online content that could get you fired
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NSFW – online content that could get you fired

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Watching and forwarding erotica at work can get you into serious trouble.

Last week, Andrew Barr, former principal of prestigious private school The Geelong College, resigned after a photo of him viewing pornography on his office computer spread among his students.

“Our college is hurting,” school council chairman Dr Hugh Seward said at the time.

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Viewing the pornography breached the school’s standards but was not illegal, Dr Seward said, which raises an interesting question: just what exactly is ‘Not Safe for Work’?

“It depends upon the employer’s policies,” was the answer given by Maddocks partner Ross Jackson, an employment law expert.

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Keep it to ‘soft core’ porn to be safe, or better yet, not at all. Photo: Shutterstock

“It is for employers to be clear and transparent about what they require as a matter of policy for use of technology at work,” Mr Jackson said.

“Clear policies are so important.”

Where it gets murky is if your boss has no NSFW rules in place.

The “lines of delineation” between what online material is acceptable and unacceptable is grey – or “broad, even amorphous”, the Fair Work Commission said in its most recent and relevant decision involving inappropriate emails at Australia Post.

“Reasonable minds might differ” on the topic, the justices wrote.

Soft core porn, which the Commission described as “no more salacious than material that might be viewed on free-to-air television almost any night of the week”, is not unlawful for an employee to access or email, the justices confirmed.

In the Australia Post case, lower-level employees who viewed and emailed around “mostly” soft core porn, with “a small amount” of more graphic material, got to keep their jobs.

“Soft core” means the breasts and/or buttocks of naked men and/or women without any exposed genitalia, the Commissioned defined in the Batterham v Diary Farmers case from 2011.

So if you stick to looking at the sort of images from the Friday night movie in the privacy of your own office, you shouldn’t technically be breaking any laws.

However, if you deem it appropriate to close the door, you might also take that as a sign that the material could offend your workmates and is not worth the risk of viewing.

The college principal’s downfall was that students reportedly spied on him through his open window. Like him, you could still be fired, even if you took all those precautions, although there are exceptions.

Even a “clear and knowing breach” of your boss’ anti-porn policy will not “always” be a valid reason for dismissal, the Commission said.

“Emailing pornography to a friend or other willing recipient is objectively a less serious breach of policy than emailing pornography to unwilling recipients or for the purposes of harassment,” the Commission said.

“Deliberately sending or showing pornography to another employee uninvited is a well recognised form of sexual harassment.

“Pornography accidentally seen by another employee can cause offence and distress.”

Ultimately, the question each worker must ask is, are a few moments of titillation worth the risk to my job? Given the variety of attitudes towards salacious imagery, the absolute safest approach may always be one of complete abstinence.

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