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Australians sexing up work e-mails

January 24, 2002 

Conducted by University of Western Sydney academics Dr Monica Whitty and Ray Archee, and commissioned by Internet filtering company SurfControl Australia, the study found that in a day and age when employers can actually be held liable for acts of sexual harassment done by their employees, 32 percent of respondents consider sex talk on work e-mail acceptable.

”While some people might think e-mail sex talk is cute, they are placing themselves and their company at legal risk," said Charles Heunemann, managing director of SurfControl Australia.

However, 78 percent of the 524 survey participants disagree that workers should be allowed to access online sexual material, with women again more strongly objectionable than their male counterparts. More men than women report receiving offensive material through work e-mail at work, whether pornographic images or sex-related messages, according to the survey.

"This research highlights the gap in opinions between men and women - women are more offended by pornography or sexual messages, whereas men regard e-mail jokes as objectionable," according to Dr Whitty.

However, whilst females are more likely to be staunch supporters or banning such offensive material, they’re less likely to know if their workplace had an explicit policy regarding Internet usage or whether their place of work used e-mail or Web filtering software, the survey results show.

The survey also found that 76 percent of respondents believe workers should be allowed access to non-work material on the Internet in the workplace, with just over a third saying that workers should be able to access non-work related material "within reason". "Within reason" was defined as inoffensive material, surfing during breaks, anything not impacting on work or network performance and anything that doesn't contravene existing departmental policy or laws.

“News, current affairs, weather, virus information, transport information, personal emails, recreational sites and banking sites were also rated as being acceptable,” according to Heunemann.

And whilst many people remain undecided as to whether e-mail and Web monitoring by employers is acceptable, 75 percent think it’s okay if they know about it beforehand.

"Employers who do the right thing, and involve employees in deciding what is and what isn't acceptable and responsible, and then filter inappropriate material, will have happier workers," Heunemann said.

By Rachel Lebihan, ZDNet Australia. Copyright © 2001 CNET Networks, Inc.

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