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January 13, 2004Press Release

Sex in the Workplace: Employment Law Alliance Poll Finds 24% Involved in Sexually-Explicit Computing

Employers may be more diligent as Valentine's Day nears

Milwaukee, WI - Nearly one-quarter of Americans recently polled said they or their co-workers use workplace computers to engage in sexually explicit online activity ranging from visiting X-rated Web sites to participating in steamy chat rooms, the latest "America at Work" national survey by the Employment Law Alliance (ELA) reported today. The national survey also found a significant number of employers are now banning romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates.

Scott C. Beightol, CFO of ELA and a partner with the law firm Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, said the latest findings are important because the poll is among the first to gauge the extent to which employees are using company computers for not just personal but romantic purposes.

"Every American workplace has a story to tell about the casual use of company computers for personal purposes, and many of those stories reflect fairly benign behavior such as online shopping," said Beightol. "But now we get a clear and compelling insight into the significant use of workplace computers for more explicit sexual purposes well beyond online dating. As Valentine's Day nears, we are likely to see increased diligence on the part of employers seeking to ban the use of company computers for X-rated activities."

Beightol summarized the key results of the national survey of 826 employees who have workplace internet access. Key findings included:

  • 24% said they were somehow involved in the use of a company computer for sexual/romantic purposes.
  • 12% said a co-worker or they have accessed sexually explicit Web sites from a workplace computer.
  • 12% said a co-worker or they have forwarded sexually explicit email content to co-workers while at work.
  • 6% said a co-worker or they have engaged in sexually explicit online chats/instant messaging while at work.
  • 10% said a co-worker or they have used the office computer for online dating services.

Are employees who use company computers for personal romantic purposes having a negative impact on productivity? 43% believe such use is hurting productivity.

Since 2001, ELA has surveyed the American public on its attitudes toward topical issues in the workplace, including the regulation of romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Those prior surveys reported consistent opposition to the regulation of romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Despite workers still wanting their employers to stay out of their personal affairs, 37% said that their employers are now specifically prohibiting romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates. And 7% said they have been involved in a romantic relationship with a supervisor or a subordinate.

"Three years ago we predicted that there would be an increase in litigation over workplace romantic relationships and there has been," said Beightol. "These new results reflect a response to that trend by more and more employers imposing bans even if the relationships are consensual." He added, "Corporate executive scandals often have a romantic component so it is only natural we're going to see tighter controls on behavior even if the rules are unpopular."

However, Beightol and other ELA lawyers cautioned that employers can easily go overboard in their zeal to create a morally secure and productive workplace.

"Employers have to make sure they are on solid legal ground before they start issuing directives that might contradict their own employee handbook or inadvertently infringe on an employee's civil liberties," he said. "They have to ensure there is adequate internal communications when it comes to explaining workplace policies on the use of company computers as well as supervisor-subordinate romantic relationships."

Dr. Ted Reed, the poll director and partner in the research firm Reed, Haldy, McIntosh & Associates, said the male workers polled were generally far more involved in workplace sexual computing than their female counterparts. For example, he noted that twice as many men said they use the company computer to access sexually explicit Web sites.

About the Employment Law Alliance

The Employment Law Alliance is the world's largest integrated, global practice network comprised of premier, independent law firms distinguished for their practice in employment and labor law. There are member firms in every jurisdiction in the United States and major commercial centers throughout the world. For further information, including access to the survey charts and graphs, visit www.employmentlawalliance.com.

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