They Fired My Wife for Browsing So-Called Porn Sites!

Dear Work Coach,

My wife is being terminated from her job of 13 years due to her accessing Myspace and Hoverspot during her lunch hour. Although she is permitted to use the Internet for personal use during her lunch hour, her company considers Myspace and Hoverspot “porn sites” due to explicit photos that may be on these sites.

Porn sites are actually blocked from access at her work, and there is no warning about these two sites being considered porn when you access them – or in the company’s policy. She is a union employee, and her union is going to take the case to arbitration, but does she have a case? They’ve offered her 13 weeks severance pay and 6 months of benefits if she goes away quietly. I personally think she should fight it.

Any direction would be greatly appreciated.
Matt

***

Hi Matt!

Boy this makes me mad! I really feel for your wife and you.

Assuming there is no other pertinent information, let’s look at the facts as stated:

• Internet browsing during lunch is OK.
• Certain sites that are not OK are blocked
• The employer says Myspace and Hoverspot are not OK, yet they are NOT blocked.
• Your wife is being terminated without written notice of these sites being off limit.
• Your wife is also being terminated without any prior warning, usually necessary in union shops.

I’m not a lawyer – although I did consult with top management in a union shop – and what I say is only my opinion. That said, something is wrong with this picture. By all means, consider arbitration. But first, talk to the union and find out whether you think this union is strong enough to stand up to the employer. Ask them about similar cases and how they were resolved. Assuming they’ve won before (most union arbitration of this sort is to the employee’s benefit)…I say go for it.

My instinct tells me there’s more going on here than just the Internet access, since there are many legitimate online-community/social-access sites like Myspace and Hoverspot. While these sites do allow people to post what they want – even things considered porn – the majority of users are basically nice folks just looking to meet interesting people with similar interests.

Have others in the company been warned away from these types of sites and/or been terminated for such access? Hard to believe your wife is the only one who ever went to one of these hugely popular sites or others like it. While caution is needed when using any social sites – especially for kids – these sites are not considered porn sites per se. Your wife would have had no reason to even think that way – and hence, no warning.

Considering how bizarre this all seems, I can’t help wondering whether the company was actually looking for a way to terminate your wife and this may simply have given them a convenient reason. The fact that she has 13 years raises some possible flags. Not sure if it applies in her case, but sometimes long-term employees are terminated before they get close to tenure points or because they are making a lot of money for their positions or simply because they are getting older. None of this is fair, but it happens. If any of this is at play, the union will not only bring it up…they will run with it!

In no way should your wife be punished for innocent access to something her employer never banned officially. What helps her case a lot is that they do have officially banned sites and the union can show that the two in question could easily have been added by the employer if they consider them dangerous. Otherwise, it’s a close cousin to entrapment, considering the popularity of these sites.

Assuming the union has been reasonably successful in such cases, I’d be sure to take advantage of arbitration. Even though there’s a chance the company would withdraw their offer should she lose, odds are they wouldn’t have made such a good offer if they had an airtight case. And given her years and union status, I would guess she is entitled to a decent package anyway. Not much downside here, and a lot to gain should she win. At the very least, she deserves to be cleansed of the parting image of “porn browser.” How dare they!

As I see it, she deserves her day in court – or in this case arbitration. I say go to the mat, Matt!

Good luck!

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. two questions:

    ONE: WHAT IS THE STATED CORPORATE POLICY TO EMPLOYEES AS TO INTERNET USE? YES, VERBATIM BECAUSE ANDS, ORS AND COMMAS MATTER AS RIDICULOUS AS IT SOUNDS.

    TWO: IS THERE ANY WAY TO FIND OUT IF ANY OTHER EMPLOYEES ACCESSED SAME AND IF SO, AS RONNIE POINTS OUT, THE TREATMENT RECEIVED?

  2. Thanks for the legal perspective. Much appreciated. People feel so helpless in these situations.

  3. there is a good free site: findlaw.com

    people can search by section for attorneys who specialize, for articles, even forums according to subject matter.

  4. It depends how long she looked at these sites. If she was looking for more than 1 min she does not have a leg to stand on. All the company has to do is blow up the picture and present it to the judge along with the time spent on that site.

Speak Your Mind