SURFING PORN AT WORK–IS THERE A DOUBLE STANDARD IF YOU ARE UPPER MANAGEMENT?

Published August 23, 2011

Recently George Greanias, the President and CEO of Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) in Houston, Texas was caught surfing porn on his personal computer at work. I have no direct involvement in this matter but was surprised to see how it was handled by Metro. Metro suspended Greanias for one week without pay. The chairman of the Metro board, Gilbert Garcia, stated that this punishment was harsher than typically would be assessed for a violation of Metro's electronic communications policies.

Metro's official statement said that Greanias accessed more than one dozen adult oriented sites of a sexual nature through the Metro Internet System. Metro's official statement stated: "Normally, the disciplinary action for such a violation is a verbal reprimand. Any subsequent violation could lead to more severe punishment, including termination. Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia has concluded that, as President and CEO, Mr. Greanias must be held to a higher standard, and decided instead of a warning Mr. Greanias would receive a more stringent punishment of one week suspension, without pay."
Surfing porn only requires a verbal warning? Really? I doubt that most businesses would give a verbal warning for viewing porn at work. I don't think Greanias got a more severe punishment. I think he got an easier punishment because most employees that do this are fired.

This brings up the question of staying consistent with your punishment. Employees are like children. (I mean this in a positive way.) Children like boundaries and rules. They just want those rules administered equally. If the rules are not administered equally, it creates resentment and mistrust.

Likewise in the workplace, consistency is so important. Employees may not like the punishment (a written reprimand or termination) but they accept it if it is administered the same to all. This is why human resource directors and employment lawyers recommend keeping the punishment consistent. So what does this mean for Metro? I don't represent them but it seems to me that if another employee is caught surfing porn they will be given a week off without pay, just like Greanias was or like the Chairman said, a verbal warning. In my opinion, Metro has just given a green light for surfing porn at work. Now you can surf porn at least once before you will be fired. That is not the message that Metro should be sending.

Most of us suspect that if the employee caught surfing porn had been some one other than top management, they would have been fired. Apparently Greanias was such a good leader the Board of Metro wanted to keep him at all costs. But what does it do to the organization? Does it send a message that rules don't matter if you are the President and CEO? Leadership is a trickle down affair. If your top person is slapped on the wrist for surfing porn, then what does it say for other offenses by lower level employees? Can Greanias be an effective leader if his employees know what he likes to do in his spare time and even in his down time at work, i.e. surf porn?

The Metro Board seemed to suggest that everyone is entitled to a mistake. We love it when someone falls down, gets up with mud on their face, offers repentance and all is forgiven. If that is the case, then every employee at Metro has a free pass coming.

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