Dow to fire up to 40 for sexually explicit emails

Dow Chemical, which had problems with pornographic emails earlier this year, says it will fire up to 40 employees this week because of new violations.

          Dow Chemical, which had problems with pornographic emails earlier this year, says it will fire up to 40 employees this week because of new violations.

          The two cases are unconnected, according to spokeswoman Kanina Blanchard.

          She adds that Dow doesn't monitor email and says these violations, which took place at the company's Freeport, Texas, location, came to light as a result of complaints by other employees.

          "When employees make a specific complaint -- as in this case -- it triggered an investigation which included a review of the servers which host the email accounts," she says.

          Employees who had pornographic or violent materials in their accounts were investigated, she says. Those who actively brought in, saved and disseminated the material, those who had material that was extremely graphic or violent in nature, and those with histories of violating Dow policies were singled out for termination.

          "This was a minority of employees," she says, and employees who innocently received pornographic materials were not investigated.

          "I personally have received off-colour or inappropriate emails," she says. "Once you get on the spam lists, you all know what you get. But this is not the kind of activity that you would get questioned about."

          Last month, Dow concluded another investigation sparked by complaints that resulted in the firings of about 50 employees at its Midland, Michigan, site.

          As a result of these incidents, the company will step up efforts to communicate its email policies.

          "We will be doing additional training," Blanchard says.

          Other companies can learn from this lesson, says Lauren Haywood, acting president and CEO at the Electronic Messaging Association & E-Business Forum.

          "The key thing is training and education for their employees," she says. She adds that it's important for a company to decide on an email privacy policy.

          Ken Dort, a Chicago-based attorney at Gordon & Glickson, says Dow has to investigate the pornographic emails to avoid appearing to support a hostile work environment.

          They really had no choice because sexual harassment was involved, he says. They weren't violating privacy rights because the employer has the right to look at an employee email. Dow also had to look at personal email to determine if the claims of sexual harassment were true.

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