A woman fired for viewing hardcore porn at work has lost a bid for unfair dismissal

The receptionist worked for a state-funded company that provides services to children.

By Gordon Deegan

THE WORKPLACE RELATIONS Commission (WRC) has upheld a decision by a state-funded company providing services to children and families to sack a receptionist for visiting hardcore porn sites while at work.

In its decision to sack the woman, the unnamed communities partnership company said that viewing violent scenes of non-consensual acts such a rape and forced sex and the abduction of girls in a workplace whose purpose was the provision of services to children and families “is wholly unacceptable and warrants dismissal”.

The employer said that not only did the unnamed worker’s “actions go against the grain of the organisation” but they had the potential to “put at risk the company’s funding relationship with government services”.

The company said that given the grave and serious nature of the administrator’s actions – which were upheld in an investigation – dismissal was deemed the appropriate sanction.

The company decided to sack the woman in May 2016 after an investigation, however she appealed the decision internally. The initial decision was upheld and she lost her job in October 2016.

Throughout the process, the woman – who had worked at the company since 2001 and was paid €416 per week – denied accessing the porn sites pointing out that two other staff members had access to the two computers in the reception area. She sued for unfair dismissal.

However, the WRC upheld the decision, finding on the balance of probability that the woman did access the sites.

A WRC report stated that a routine check of two computers in the reception of the workplace found that x-rated material was accessed on seven dates from Wednesday, 30 September 2015 to Thursday, 26 November 2015.

The porn was accessed at times ranging from 1.28pm to 4.40pm on the various dates. On three of the dates, the woman was the only person working in the reception area.

The company’s IT specialist confirmed that a Trojan virus was not responsible for accessing the sites. The WRC noted that the worker “strenuously denied and continues to deny any involvement in these alleged activities”.

Gross misconduct

But the adjudication officer in the case, Eugene Hanly, found that, on the balance of probability, the woman had accessed the sites and her action constituted gross misconduct warranting dismissal.

At the hearing in Dublin, the woman argued that there is no evidence to show that she was the only person to have accessed these sites.

She said that the most likely explanation is that “pop-ups” occurred which were disregarded by her employer and that the decision to dismiss was not proportionate. She stated that alternatives to dismissal were not considered.

The woman said that there were no secure passwords for the computers and colleagues had access to the internet at reception.

She said that volunteers have unlimited access to the computers as well, and it appeared that the sites were accessed on days when she had already left the centre. She added that she had 18 years participating in the work schemes without any problem.

The woman was seeking reinstatement or compensation. She has not worked since. She has looked for work but has been unsuccessful because of the reason for the dismissal.

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