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Fired for Spreading Pornography in the Workplace

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.. yet appealing the decision?

Mr S worked for the Province of Manitoba for over 30 years and was terminated following an investigation that addressed inappropriate computer usage in the workplace. He grieved the decision to terminate, though he did not dispute the substance of the allegations relied upon in the decision. The evidence clearly established that Mr S was using his office computer for inappropriate purposes, principally involving the accessing, receipt and dissemination of pornographic material to persons both within and outside the employ of the Province.

I used to see cases like this in the workplace quite regularly, during that relatively distant time when the Internet and computer connectivity at work was new and novel. It was often argued that people did not know any better or were not aware that the computer systems constituted the property of the employer and that the policies of the employer applied. I have not seen many of these cases lately, but as this decision comes from 2014 and 2015, and refers to cases of a similar nature in the Province; clearly they are still occurring. 

The Union did not dispute that Ms S’s conduct justified a disciplinary response by the employer, however they argued that some lesser sanction should be substituted. Mr S’s behaviour constituted hundreds, if not thousands of offensive messages including nudity and sexual activity, lewd jokes and other material. It occurred for at least 24 months. Some messages were particularly upsetting to management upon review; messages which were joking, negative and sarcastic remarks about the work government employees do. The employer had investigated 5 employees for improper computer use and the remaining 4 had retired or been allowed to resign. Mr S was not provided that opportunity.

Mr S was called to a meeting, and he said he did not know what it was about. The employer questioned him about the computer use and then left the room. Mr S was presented a letter shortly thereafter that had obviously been prepared ahead of time and which terminated his employment. The employer indicated that they would have accepted Mr S’s resignation at the meeting if he would have offered it, but he did not.

Mr S also had some prior discipline on record for similar behaviour, albeit 15 years ago. In the arbitration, Mr S showed remorse but could offer no explanation to his conduct other than “I guess I got caught up in it”. He said that he was “profoundly sorry”. Mr S had not offered the employer an apology up to the arbitration, which weighed against the idea that he was truly remorseful.

The arbitrator found that the misconduct by Mr S was serious, persistent, and very troubling in terms of the nature and the volume of the material he disseminated. He found that Mr S’s actions were not “merely impulsive” as they occurred over a lengthy period of time. However, the arbitrator found that Mr S should be provided the same opportunity to resign as the others referred to above. He found “Consistency and the avoidance of unfairness require that treatment.” Accordingly, the grievance was allowed in part. The arbitrator directed that Mr S may tender his resignation.

Sometimes I read these case decisions and wonder: this individual did something at work, that he knew was wrong, had been previously disciplined for it and yet this was repeated behaviour. The employer reacted reasonably and then found themselves in an argument that ultimately changed the outcome from a termination to a resignation. What is the benefit to Mr S? Simply that now the employer has to tell other prospective employers that he resigned versus was terminated? I guess that makes some sense…..perhaps what makes more sense would be not sending pornography etc. while at work, with employer equipment at all, much less for years and years.

About Dylan Hill

As a lead facilitator in our training projects, Dylan Hill’s involvement includes conducting workshops in Respectful Workplaces; Harassment Investigation Techniques; and Dispute Resolution.

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