Employers Don't Put Your Heads In the Sand, You May Be Required to Monitor, Investigate and Report Employees Accessing Child Pornography
The New Jersey Appellate Division (Doe v. XYC Corporation) and the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin (Maypark v. Securitas Serv. USA Inc. & Sigler v. Kobinsky) have both examined an employer’s duty to monitor employees conduct while at work, and have reached drastically different results. Additionally, at least seven states—Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota—have enacted laws requiring computer technicians or Internet service providers to report child pornography if they encounter it in the scope of their work.
New Jersey. In Doe v. XYC, the company’s IT department noticed an employee was accessing pornographic web pages while at work. Despite numerous complaints and suspicious usage by the employee, management took no formal action except to instruct the employee to stop visiting inappropriate web pages. Following the employee’s marriage to the Plaintiff, the employee took nude and semi-nude pictures of Plaintiff’s 10-year-old daughter and uploaded the photos to child porn web pages using his work computer. The employee was arrested and charged, and the Plaintiff sued the company, alleging that it knew or should have known of the employee’s conduct and had a duty to report it. The state Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s decision that no duty existed. It held that XYC Corporation knew or should have known the employee was accessing child pornography at work, and further had a duty to investigate and report it. Thus, in New Jersey, where an employer has the right and ability to monitor Internet usage and the employee has no expectation of privacy, employers have a duty to investigate and report the access of child pornography if they know or should have known an employee was doing so. For a detailed analysis of Doe, click here.
Wisconsin. In Maypark v. Securitas, the plaintiff sued an employer for allowing a former employee, a security guard, to post photographs of the plaintiff’s employees on an adult website. An earlier Wisconsin case, Sigler v. Kobinsky, held that a company could not be held liable for alleged negligent supervision leading to an employee's use of a company computer to harass plaintiffs where there is no probability of harm. Specifically, a company had no duty to monitor because it was not reasonably foreseeable that providing employees with unsupervised Internet access would probably result in harm. Relying on Sigler, the Court in Maypark overturned a $1.4 million negligence verdict against the security company, finding the guard’s action were not foreseeable.
Given the unsettled law on this issue, employers should consider several important factors when it comes to monitoring of employees. The Society for Human Resource Management published an article (*registration required) analyzing this issue. The article provides a number of suggestions, including that of our own Nadine Abrahams, a Jackson Lewis Partner in our Chicago office, who suggests the first step should be setting up a procedure for the immediate reporting of child pornography that has been discovered and the designation of a company representative who should be notified. Additional steps include:
- Institution of clear, effective and thorough computer usage and monitoring polices, which also address employee expectation of privacy;
- Training of employees conducting any monitoring;
- Prompt investigation of computer usage and allegations of unlawful conduct; and
- Consultation with legal counsel regarding the duty to report to authorities.