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Liability for Employee Internet Misuse

This decision imposes an expansive duty on an employer, beyond simply investigating and stopping inappropriate Internet activities at work.

February 7, 2006
Related Topics: Technology and the Law, Technology
An employee used his work computer to share pictures over the Internet of his 10 year-old stepdaughter in nude and semi-nude positions. He had also downloaded other images of child pornography onto his work computer. On several occasions, the company’s management received complaints that the employee had viewed pornographic Web sites, its inspection of the computer confirmed that the employee had visited such pornography, and the company reprimanded the employee for having done so. The employee’s wife filed a negligence lawsuit against the employer on behalf of the child-victim, based on the employer’s failure to investigate and report to authorities that its employee was downloading and distributing child pornography on his work computer. According to the lawsuit, had the employee been reported to authorities, the daughter would never have been victimized.

    The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, but on appeal the New Jersey appellate division reversed that decision. An "employer who is on notice that one of its employees is using a workplace computer to access pornography, possibly child pornography, has a duty to investigate the employee’s activities and to take prompt and effective action to stop the unauthorized activity," according to a recent New Jersey appellate court decision. Should the employer fail to investigate under such circumstances, the employer could be liable to a person subsequently victimized by the employee. Doe v. XYC Corp., N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div., No. A-2909-04T2 (12/27/05).

    Impact: This decision imposes an expansive duty upon an employer, beyond simply investigating and stopping inappropriate Internet activities at work, specifically in reference to viewing child pornography. Not only must an employer investigate, it may be under obligation to report improper Internet use to authorities.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Workforce Management, January 30, 2006, p. 7 -- Subscribe Now!

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