Damned if I know, but I’ll bet a lot of slap-happy small-business owners are trying to figure out if it’s really, oh, say Mary Brown or Marvelous Benjamin, or whether their underling changed their initials to literally share dirty laundry with the New York Times’ Ethicist column.
To wit …
Arriving at work, I often find that my boss, who owns the business, had been looking at pornography after-hours on the computer we sometimes share. (He has no private office, and this computer is the most isolated.) Sometimes he leaves those pages open, so I can’t help see ing them. I don’t care what he does so long as it’s not in my work space. Asking him to stop might endanger my job. May I turn on the parental controls and set a password? M.B., PHILADELPHIA
If your boss is not downloading illegal material and there’s nobody else around to be discomfited and he tidies up the computer when he’s done, then I see no harm in his after-hours revelry. The problem is: he doesn’t tidy up, and the next morning you are confrontedwith the afterimages of his carousing. There are scenes none of us want seared onto our retinas. Your next step is to tactfully ask the boss to close all Web pages when he’s finished with them. It makes no difference what he views as long as you’re not forced to also.
If that fails, then turn on those parental controls, a tactic that is a bit childish in its obliqueness but not unethical. As long as you do not impair anyone’s ability to get work done, place your employer in legal peril or thwart legitimate efforts at computer security, you should have broad latitude as to how you use your workplace computer and how you — inadvertently — do not. But be prepared to respond when your boss figures out what you’ve done.
You are entitled to work in an environment that is not “hostile,” something generally understood to mean pornfree. To learn what legal rights and recourse you have here, you would do well to contact a specialist in employment law. Were these images imposed on you during work hours, then ethics would align with law and banish such material. This is not to argue for or against the joy or squalor (or both) of porn, but to assert that it has no placeon the job, where it can make employees uneasy.
My ethical advice would be sending out for some nasty scat born to have sent to the office on his behalf. Here’s your holiday weekend assignment: Figure out who M.B. is!