IT Policies

Talking Shop: Should a tech support pornographic e-mail?

Ethical issues to consider

Aaron is a support tech in a large manufacturing company with a relaxed atmosphere and where many of the employees are related. Most of his days are spent in the production units trouble-shooting basic hardware and software problems. He has a great working relationship with the end users who never fail to include him in their barbeque lunches and domino games. Aaron works hard to maintain his relationship with both his users and with his boss, the IT manager. But recent events are straining these relationships and Aaron needs your advice.

Update: So what really happened?
To learn the outcome of the scenario outlined below and get a recap of the comments and suggestions given by TechRepublic members, click here.

A good idea gone bad
Until six months ago, only the shift supervisors had computer access, but with the introduction of computer-based training programs, every plant employee became a computer user overnight. Internet access was freely available on every computer, and, against the advice of the IT manager, the CEO even went to so far as to make an announcement encouraging personal use of company computers and the Internet during breaks and lunch.

One day Aaron is stopped by George, a maintenance technician, who asks Aaron if he wouldn’t mind taking a look at his wife’s computer. George’s wife, Marcie, works in the administrative building. When questioned about the nature of Marcie's problem, George lowers his voice and whispers, “I e-mailed some, um, pictures to Marcie today as a surprise. Trouble is, she can’t open them. She gets some message about no application.” Aaron agrees to help but makes a point of it being a personal favor, as company policy prohibits him from dealing with non- work-related computer issues during company time—a fine line recently blurred by the CEO’s announcement.

Aaron has no problem associating the correct application with the picture files, but is completely shocked when he opens the pictures to discover their pornographic content. He leaves Marcie’s desk without saying a word, while she happily saves them to her home drive.

My kingdom for an e-mail policy
Aaron reads the employee handbook from cover to cover but can find no mention of pornography. He knows that certain calendars had recently been removed from restrooms and break rooms, but he is also aware that the CEO explicitly allows personal use of computers and the Internet. Afraid that if he does nothing he may be jeopardizing his job if someone else discovers the pictures and is offended by them, he tries to address the matter with the IT manager. Unfortunately, the IT manager merely quotes the CEO, and states that there is nothing he can do. Aaron is not happy with this response but knows that he would be wasting his time complaining to the HR manager because she is George’s cousin.

If you were Aaron, what would you do? Would you circumvent the chain of command and raise the matter directly with the CEO? Would you delete the pictures and hope that it didn’t happen again? Or would you talk to Marcie and George and ask them to remove them? If there are no policies in place to protect the support tech, what can he do to protect himself without jeopardizing his job or his relationship with his users? What would you do?

We want to hear what you have to say!
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

Would you confront a dishonest coworker?
Here's a summary of your responses to a previous column that detailed one tech’s problems with a coworker who lied to the manager to conceal his incompetence.

The common theme to most responses was that “it depends.” What Vicki can or should do about Michael, her dishonest coworker, greatly depends upon her relationship with him, her relationship with her boss, and the general atmosphere at the company. Many readers reported knowledge of similar situations in which the person reporting the problem was the one reprimanded, or worse, actually fired for “not being a team player.” One reader suggested that Vicki try submitting a couple of reports about less serious, unrelated personal/political problems to management just to gauge the type of reaction she might receive if she decided to report Michael.

While acknowledging the potential hopelessness of her situation, the following constructive suggestions were proposed:
  • Catalogue the backup tapes for the last month—missing logs are no obstacle to proving the absence of a backup, advised member Britt Claussen.
  • Confront Michael directly.
  • Report the incident to the IT manager and/or HR.
  • Document the whole incident—even if Vicki feels unable to use this documentation now, it may be useful later if she ever becomes a victim of Michael’s dishonesty.

Regrettably for Vicki, most readers felt that she was “in a no-win situation." As member Catadmin wrote, "Eavesdropping, however inadvertently, on a boss's private discussion is not looked upon kindly by management.” It is a hard lesson to accept, but sometimes there is no course of action guaranteed to produce the best outcome for the company without the instigator being burned in the process.

So what did Vicki actually do?
After spending a considerable length of time considering her options, Vicki decided to take the approach of confronting Michael directly—but not about the incident in question. First, Vicki did her research and legitimately obtained a copy of Michael’s resume. Noticing that he claimed to have worked extensively with databases, an area she was currently studying in school, she took him to lunch one day on the pretext of improving her own database knowledge.

As Michael ducked question after question about normalization, orphans, and referential integrity, Vicki become more and more convinced that he had lied on his resume. Her next step was to research his qualifications—he claimed to have received a degree from a university in England. Unfortunately for Michael, neither the university, nor the town in which it supposedly resides, actually existed.

Armed with this documentation, Vicki presented her findings to the IT manager, explaining that she had become suspicious when Michael was unable to answer her database questions. Fortunately, the IT manager was sufficiently irritated at HR’s failure to perform a thorough background check that he did not question Vicki’s motives. A few days later, Michael was dismissed for lying on his resume.
0 comments

Editor's Picks