Adult Content Spam and Sexual Harassment

by Christopher on October 7, 2011

Whether the message invites you to view someone’s webcam, prolong your erection, or watch “young girlz get raped,” adult content spam is becoming increasingly explicit, graphic, and offensive. It’s also becoming more common. Spam email accounted for 85 percent of all email, or 134.3 billion messages in November 2010, according to Cisco IronPort SenderBase Security Network. Considering adult content spam accounts for nearly six percent of that 134.3 billion, there is a tremendous amount of porn staring the average unprotected email user in the face.

How does that affect your organization?

Whether your organization is large or small, adult content spam is much more than a nuisance: it decreases employee productivity and morale, wastes resources, and may expose you to legal liability. Employers of all sizes have been found liable for failing to protect their employees from sexual or otherwise offensive electronic images and preventing inappropriate email usage.

Imagine this scenario: One of your employees, Steve X, arrives at your company on a Wednesday morning, eager to begin his day. He boots up his computer and signs into his email, just like any other morning. On this day, however, he opens an email message containing obscene text and the pornographic image of a young-looking girl. Steve X, being devoutly religious and the father of a 15-year-old girl, is extremely offended. In fact, he is sickened and outraged.

Scenarios like the one above occur frequently, with more than 25% of workers receiving offensive or sexually explicit emails on a regular basis, according to Michael R. Overly, an attorney and Certified Information Systems Security Professional. When an employee is subjected to disturbing messages and images, especially when it happens repeatedly, your company can be held liable for sexual harassment due to a hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment? Because of spam emails?

Yes. Employers who fail to protect their employees from a hostile work environment created by sexually explicit and offensive spam emails can be found indirectly liable for sexual harassment. While direct liability generally results when a supervisor sends sexually offensive text or images directly to a subordinate, indirect liability results when an employer fails to take all possible steps to secure the safety and comfort of his employees. If one or more of your employees has complained about sexually explicit spam emails and you did not take immediate steps to prevent future problems, your employee can sue you.

Fortunately, you can help protect yourself and your organization from liability by proactively working to minimize emails threats. By taking action, you can avoid or strongly mitigate any liability you may potentially face if one of your employees decides to sue.

* Develop a comprehensive email policy that outlines your organization’s position against sexual harassment and lists examples of inappropriate conduct. Distribute this policy to every employee and display it in highly visible areas of your workplace. Include a disclaimer and warning that employees using the Internet do so at their own risk.

* Provide training for all employees at all levels of your organization. Instruct your employees on the best methods of responding to offensive email messages and make reporting such messages as simple as possible.

* Use spam filtering technology and other up-to-date email security products to ensure your employees and your organization are protected at all times.

The time and money needed to protect your employees and organization from spam is trivial compared to the potential legal and financial risks posed by adult content spam.

Posted in: Spam

Previous post:

Next post: