my employee accidentally posted porn to the company group chat and now wants to resign in shame

A reader writes:

Please help me, I am panicking here. My employee just posted a very, very explicit porn video to our company’s main announcements chat room, which has over 200 members. The video featured several very … unusually niche fetishes. (I’m not trying to kink shame at all, but I just mean to say that the video was extremely shocking and just … memorable.)

There were a few awkward comments and shocked emoji reactions before she quickly deleted the comment. I also saw it, but before I could do anything she called me, completely distraught. She basically said that she was deeply sorry and deeply ashamed, and that she wanted to resign because she couldn’t face us again. She wanted to mail in her laptop (!). I could barely get in a word. In any case, since she is already on PTO, I told her that she didn’t need to make any decisions yet, and that this wasn’t a big deal and would blow over. So she’s still on vacation right now.

I’m not really sure how this happened, but regardless I don’t care because it’s obviously an accident. She obviously wasn’t trying to sexually harass anyone, she’s clearly apologetic, and I’m absolutely sure she’s learned from it and won’t make that mistake again. I want to reassure her that she absolutely does not need to resign — that, although it may be embarrassing for a short while, this too will pass and everyone will get over it.

Most importantly, I don’t want her to resign because she’s a genuinely amazing person!! She’s super smart and creative, exceptionally hard-working and reliable, helpful and kind, and just overall a great person to work with. I would even describe her as one of the best hires I’ve made, someone with a lot of potential! I can’t say enough good things about her. I don’t want her to think this is the end of the world, because it isn’t, or that this incident would make me think any less of her. But I’m at a loss for how to get through to her!

And to be honest, I feel like I really understand where she’s coming from. If I were her, I know how utterly mortified I would feel. I think I literally had this nightmare once. That chat room is the main bulletin board for our company and has 200+ members, and most people at the company probably have “all notifications on” for that particular room. It is likely that many people saw it. So I can understand the impulse to just up and disappear. However, while that is obviously an overreaction to the situation, she seemed dead-set on actually going through with it.

I have no idea how to deal with this situation, and I don’t have too much time before her PTO is over. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out:

• What do I tell her when she comes back? Should I email/call her now before she gets back? How should I help her get through the embarrassment/deal with the aftermath?

• What do I do in the meantime while she’s not here? Do I need to talk to my other employees/coworkers? Should I try to play this all off as a virus or something?

• Do I need to discuss this with HR? As I said, it’s obvious to me that this isn’t sexual harassment. What do I even say to them, if anything?

• About the 200+ other people at this company … do I need to do anything regarding that/speak up for her somehow? A lot of those people haven’t met her, so they don’t have the same positive impression of her that I/her teammates do. Should I try to say something in advance…? My instinct is to just leave it be and trust that people will forget.

• What should I do if she really quits?

• Anything else I’m not thinking of??

I just really care about her, I think she’s a fantastic employee and person, and I really hate to see her in this position. I feel awful that SHE feels this awful about it. I want to do right by her, whatever that means. Any advice at all would be deeply, deeply appreciated.

Oh no!

I’m sure she feels she has just announced her very specific and very dirty sexual fetishes to your entire company, and not only that but illustrated them in the most graphic way possible, without anyone’s consent.

She’s probably not thinking that it’s plausible this could somehow be spam-related, or that her teenage nephew did it as a terribly misguided prank, or that it was saved in the copy/paste function on her computer from the last user.

In other words, she really didn’t just come out to your whole company as a fan of Specific Kink X.

The more you can do to push those other possibilities into her brain, the better.

Do you have the ability to text her while she’s away? If so, I’d text her something like this: “Truly, Jane, do not worry! There are tons of things that could have caused this — spam, someone else using the copy/paste function on your computer before you did, a prank from a young relative — and no one here would ever possibly think you’d intended to post that in a group chat. Everyone assumes there’s an innocent explanation, and it would make it a far bigger deal if you did quit over it! I don’t want you to spend another minute of your vacation worrying about this. You’re an excellent employee, hugely valued, and that’s the end of it.” (If you can’t text her, maybe call her in a day, ask her to let you speak before she interjects, then say all this. Leave it on her voicemail if needed.)

It might be worth giving HR a heads-up about what happened. You don’t want them to hear about it themselves and have to track you down to ask about it. Frame it as “it was obviously a mistake, she deleted it immediately, she’s mortified, and I’m trying to talk her down from how upset she is over it.” (It could be wise to do this before you talk to the employee herself, to make sure you don’t hear anything that would change your messaging.)

If anyone else asks you about it, shut it down with, “Technology can get the best of any of us. She’s always been scrupulously professional and I have no reason to think there’s any more to it than that. She’s mortified and I don’t want to make it worse by harping on it. It happened, it got fixed.”

If she really follows through on quitting, you can tell her how devastated you’d be to lose her over something that no one is that worked up about, but ultimately it is her call. The more you can emphasize that no one is having the reaction she’s picturing them having, the better.

{ 777 comments… read them below }

  1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    “The more you can do to push those other possibilities into her brain, the better.”

    This is smart. I hope the employee grabs this lifeline.

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      Absolutely this. There are SO many explanations that extend beyond “I love this porn for me.” A friend sent her a shocking link as a gag and she accidentally copied it. She sent the link to a friend as a gag. Clicked on a pop-up by accident. Her boyfriend used her computer last to explore his weird fantasies and c/ped the link to send to himself.

      I have to say, if a coworker did this, my last instinct would be to mention it to them. Everyone knows it was a mistake, everyone knows how embarrassed they would be had it happened to them, and no one wants to be the awkward person that asks their coworker about porn.

      1. Observer*

        A lot of those explanations wold not work in many situations. Obviously if it is plausible in the OP’s situation, the go for it. But think this through first.

        I have to say, if a coworker did this, my last instinct would be to mention it to them

        100% Reasonable coworkers are NOT going to want to discuss it, in any case. And the fact that it went down so quickly is a signal to anyone that cares that it was clearly not intended to be posted there.

        This is a classic case of “least said, soonest mended.”

        1. Alli525*

          The point isn’t to help the employee come up with a fake explanation that she can tell her coworkers – the point is to help OP point out to the employee how many different reasons could exist for accidentally sending this link.

          1. Socrates Johnson*

            Right. They are trying to manage the employees perception of what everyone else is “thinking”

          2. Just wondering*

            The point of the fake but plausible explanations is to help the op’s employee hopefully stop stressing about this so much that she quits. It is relevant.

            1. Anonomoose*

              As the friendly neighborhood IT guy, I’d be entirely happy in this circumstance to send out an email about a virus that has been “spamming chat and email with explicit links”

              Mostly because it would let me bug people, again, about not clicking on suspicious links, so I feel the lie would be a net good.

              1. Tupac Coachella*

                That’s perfect-win win. Reminders not to click from strangers are always appropriate, and if I saw the post and then got this e-mail, I would take it as confirmation of what I would already have assumed: that Jane got hacked.

          3. Observer*

            Sure. But if you come up with something that really is NOT plausible, it’s not going to calm the employee down.

            On the other hand, either way, SheLooks Familiar is 100% correct and I think that reminding the employee of that could help her calm down.

            1. JSPA*

              None off them have to be plausible to her, or in her specific situation. They have to be broadly plausible as something that could happen to someone (and they all are). Most of the people receiving don’t know, and don’t want to know, if she has no family, no visitors at her apartment, never logs in from a public computer, never looks away from her own computer in public, has never been hacked, has never received an unsolicited link, never fell for Rickrolling (or prickrolling), etc. We live in a world where practically everything is exactly one URL away. Unless child pr0n or actual snuff films are involved, there is zero reason anybody should be enquiring as to source or process, or assuming anything about the person who posted the link.

              If OP wants, she could address the only substantive issue: not that the careless link was prOn-y, but that it’s good to double check any link before posting. Any number of viruses would be far more damaging, as would confidentiality violations.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I used to think mistakes like this just didn’t happen…until it happened to me. And it’s happened often enough to friends of mine that I treat this kind of thing for what it is: an anomaly. Unless someone tells me, ‘I’m going to send this weird site to you,’ I ignore the whole event.

        OP, I hope your associate can stop beating herself up for this!

        1. AnnaBananna*

          I think this may be the most perfect comment for the employee to hear. Because it’s so ridiculously simple but true.

        2. Bingo*

          100% this right here!

          I remember the days of the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe making the rounds of the software company I worked for, so I feel like a lot of us are inclined to think these things are spam akin to those emails where someone is in Mexico or wherever and needs money wired to them.

          In the days of desktops and no Windows passwords, sometimes you’d come in to work and find porn on your browser. And then there was the guy who learned the hard way (in a meeting) that “whitehouse.org was most definitely NOT the same as whitehouse.gov.

          It sounds like she dealt with the error as swiftly as possible, so I hope the OP shows her this board so she can understand how easy it is for internet weirdness to occur and how most of us just shrug it off as the latest spam.

          1. pagooey*

            My first tech job, 25 years ago, was in a software training company where we actually taught classrooms of people How to Internet. A lot of our earliest classes learned that “whitehouse-dot-ohnoooo” lesson the same way, enough that it became part of our instructor training.

            I hope you can console your employee, OP! Obviously, these mishaps go back as far as the web itself.

          2. Temperance*

            That was definitely something we all found out in high school, when a guy whose nickname is PatWart decided to show us all in the computer lab.

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              I was long gone by the time the internet came to my tiny high school, but legend has it that in a faculty/staff training session on this newfangled tool, the trainer told everyone to “search for something related to your field.” The Vice Principal, whose job included handing out detentions and suspensions and being generally responsible for discipline, searched for…”discipline.” Everyone learned something new that day.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Three of my friends have been hacked since Christmas and an x-rated link was sent “from them” to everyone in their email contacts list. Their friends contacted the with READ ME ASAP” subject lined saying they need to change passwords.
          It’s real … and really problematic on many levels.

          1. TardyTardis*

            I had that happen on FB–apparently I was sending everyone I knew videos as messages–and it took a quick chat, a password change, and An Announcement To All on my main page to fix it, and I still had a few unhappy people (till they were hit, alas).

        4. Hey Nonnie*

          As potential reassurance, once a client sent me a Bitly link for a specific item on their ecommerce site for the purposes of including it in some digital marketing.

          I copy-pasted the link into the piece, finished it up, then went through clicking on all the links to test them.

          The Bitly link took me to a PORN SITE. On the office network. On my highly visible open-office screen. With, shall we say, lots and lots of photos.

          I closed the window super-fast, and immediately let my manager know about the problem.

          Upon further investigation, it turned out that the CORRECT Bitly link was ONE LETTER off from the link that was sent to me. Clearly someone had retyped it into the email rather than copy-pasting, and had typoed it. It was just a really unfortunate coincidence that the incorrect link was porn. I imagine the client was really hoping that no one else would attempt to type in their link instead of clicking it. (It was a custom Bitly, too, e.g. Bit.ly/ProductName, so it was not beyond the realm of possibility that people would be typing instead of clicking. Eek.)

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            It wasn’t a coincidence. A lot of porn sites make their addresses one letter off from more popular sites so they can boost their traffic numbers with all the accidental hits that come from typos.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              Normally I’d agree with you, but the product was a Holiday Season item. It was just released, so there was no reason for the client’s custom Bitly link to have existed prior to this. I think the porn site got their Bitly first. (Yes, it was holiday-themed porn.)

          2. Rosie*

            I accidentally clicked on something that came up with an extremely pr0n-y pop-up on my office computer, I was *mortified* and closed it at the speed of light. I don’t think anyone even saw the screen, but I told my manager *immediately* in case something got flagged up with the IT people and spent the rest of the afternoon exerting extreme willpower not to just hide under my desk.

            I’d never just assume that a colleague did something like that deliberately, unless I already had very serious concerns about them, which is obviously not the case with the OP’s employee!

          3. Nic*

            Not at work, but at university once upon a time, I clicked on a perfectly innocent link in a website that I used quite a lot – and unbeknownst to me had been hacked. It spawned THE WORST porn pop-up site that then kept on spawning multiple new pop-up windows every two seconds or so. I don’t know how long I spent playing whack-a-mole with those windows until I finally got it all under control, but it sure felt like a very long time!

            (I then spent the next two weeks hoping desperately that whoever was in charge of university IT hadn’t noticed what my web surfing had led to.)

          4. Karen*

            One of my friends didn’t know that bitly links are case sensitive and sent out her wedding invitations with a font that makes all the letters capital. The all caps bitly link did NOT go to her wedding website, but to a porn site. She sent those invites out to both their extended families. She was mortified and had to send out a message to everyone telling them NOT to go to the link.

        5. Claire*

          I’d been at my first job out of college for about two months when I learned that the business customer service line of a certain organization started with 1-866, but the same telephone number starting with 1-800 was a phone sex hotline. I initially just thought, “Oh, they’ve changed their landing music,” and then I was informed that hot, nasty girls were waiting to talk to me and all I had to do was enter my credit card number. Stuff happens!

      3. CircleBack*

        I have a friend who sends me ridiculous ads she gets on facebook – and once you click on a strange erotica ad about dinosaurs and changelings just one time for laughs, you’re going to get a lot more really weird sexual ads until pretty much the end of time.

        My first assumption would be something along those lines, and my last assumption would be that it’s the coworker’s fetish, with a lot of options in between. I can see someone mentioning it in my workplace with a quick one-off joke about putting a 10-second delay on all of this coworker’s posts… but most people wouldn’t hold it against her provided she was otherwise professional at work.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Absurd erotica. I’m trying to remember titles but my brain is just coming up with “Ravished by the Triceratops,” which is real but written by someone else. Don’t google him at work! But do google him at home if you want a good laugh.

              1. whingedrinking*

                He has a podcast too! It’s called “Pounded in the Butt by My Own Podcast”. It’s other podcasters reading out his stories. I’m particularly fond of the one Justin McElroy reads out to his wife Sydnee.

            2. Elemeno P.*

              I recently bought a few Chuck Tingle paperbacks for my friends. I used Amazon. I also use Amazon for work. I deleted my search history in preparation, but I desperately hope my boss is never over my shoulder as I review past work purchases.

              1. tinyhipsterboy*

                You can hide Amazon purchases from your history! I believe the option is called “Archive Order” when you’re looking over your order history.

        1. BB*

          I was searching for wolf related artwork on Amazon last year. In the websites infinite wisdom it thought I would enjoy The Wolf of Wall Street poster with Leo doing a line from a ladies butt crack. For weeks, this was the top recommendation Everytime I opened Amazon, it appeared in a beautiful little preview window.

          Porn is literally everywhere and there are so many reasons why it could have ended up on that thread. Employee just needs to reframe in their head. I would never have assumed this was an intentionally used website she posted and probably lean more toward a brief hacking event. Unless she quits. Then the gossip mill will run wild.

          1. Mongrel*

            Bit late now, but…

            Look on the Amazon Homepage and you should see a “Recently Viewed” box, with your hypothetical saucy poster. At the bottom of that box you should see link that says “See your browsing History”.
            Clicking on that lets you individually select items that can be removed from you’re “You’ve looked at…” images.

            If you’ve, again hypothetically, purchased a Chuck Tingle book as a joke present for a friend and are now getting some borderline NSFW items in your recommendations….
            On the Top bar, hover over the “Welcome , Accounts & Lists” button and you should see a link to “Your Recommendations” click that. At the top of that page you should see a link to “Improve Your Recommendations”, click on that and you can mark items as gifts or do not use this for recommendations.

        2. Creed Bratton*

          Many many years ago a friend had mentioned a particular, high end type of wine opener that I realized would be a perfect Christmas present. Back then it was completely appropriate to use Amazon on our work computers to buy materials for the classroom or whatever. So I log on to my classroom computer (after school!) into my personal Amazon account and type in “The Rabbit” (sophisticated corkscrew that opens all wine in 3 seconds, auto-sealing feature…..nice). Absolutely nothing on the first page was wine related and if you’ve never seen that Sex and the City Ep I’ll let you know that the most common “Rabbit” product is a vibrator and this being Amazon the damn search algorithm haunted me for months. So many lessons learned for me that day. Hopefully the one that OP’s employee learns is that this kind of stuff is way too common!

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Oh nooooo! I wonder how many people ordered the wine opener thinking they were getting a vibrator… or vice versa.

          2. Simonthegreywarden*

            This happened similarly to me but with Wish, and luckily only on my phone….but oh no.

    2. starsaphire*

      I hope so too. :(

      I am sure she is feeling “if only the planet would explode before I get back from my vacation” right now, and I am just aching for her.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I know–if this were me I’d be packing up and moving to Estonia to start a new life knitting mittens. UGH.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      I would straight-up lie like a cheap rug and blame it on the nephew. No question.

      Also, this reminds me of the Southwest Airlines commercials where someone does something horribly embarrassing and the tag line is ‘wanna get away?’

      Poor woman. I hope it all blows over.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yes! My nephew is only three and I would throw his little, diapered butt under the bus so fast. Yeah! My nephew did it! He’s completely out of control! (Love you, kiddo. Here’s some candy.)

      2. Gumby*

        This works except – what was her nephew doing on her work laptop? Are you not locking it when you walk away? Etc. (This is something of a big deal where I work.)

        I hope this blows over and no one even asks so she won’t *need* a cover story.

        1. Anonomoose*

          My cat has nearly become a sysadmin twice, because I got up to stretch without locking my computer. Never work in the vicinity of small children and animals…

        2. Mongrel*

          “This works except – what was her nephew doing on her work laptop? Are you not locking it when you walk away? Etc. (This is something of a big deal where I work.) ”

          Things tend to get a little laxer when you’re working at home, it’s a very different environment

    4. Snarflepants*

      I know eh!
      I hope the employee realizes that quitting will probably make this experience a MORE memorable event in the minds of others. I mean, I totally understand the desire to flee into the distance. However, explaining the error as Tech Run Amok! Weird! will probably help the moment pass as quickly as possible.

      1. valentine*

        I hope the employee realizes that quitting will probably make this experience a MORE memorable event in the minds of others.
        Yes, and give it more weight. If she had given notice prior to this, it could come across as “Quit, posted (PTO!) porn, and disappeared.” What I think may work is encouraging her to ride it out so her great reputation gets to be the lasting impression.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Yeah, the story about that time when Kelly accidentally sent an inappropriate link because spam is ubiquitous and technology can be weird is going to be forgotten eventually. But the story about the time Kelly sent an inappropriate link and then vanished forever, never to be seen again? That’s a story people will keep telling.

    5. boo bot*

      Yeah, this is so, so smart. I would also mention those possibilities in the “shutting it down if people bring it up” conversations; you don’t want to linger on it, but if anyone *is* jumping to conclusions, it might help to reel them back in before ending the conversation.

      I want to hug this poor woman if she likes hugs from internet strangers. Someday this will be a good story, I promise. OP, you might point her to this post and comment thread when she gets back, if you think she’d be receptive – my prediction is like 600 people are going show up to support her.

      And if you do that, you can show her these posts, in which someone got into a whole other scale of situation, and it really did work out okay:
      https://www.askamanager.org/2015/06/i-racked-up-20000-in-personal-charges-on-my-company-credit-card.html
      https://www.askamanager.org/2015/07/update-i-racked-up-20000-in-personal-charges-on-my-company-credit-card.html
      https://www.askamanager.org/2016/12/update-i-racked-up-20000-in-personal-charges-on-my-company-credit-card-2.html
      https://www.askamanager.org/2017/03/update-i-racked-up-20000-in-personal-charges-on-my-company-credit-card-3.html

      And #5 at the link, possibly my favorite story ever:
      https://www.askamanager.org/2014/05/your-7-biggest-career-sins.html

      It really will be okay!

    6. Lauren*

      Honestly, why not send a reminder to the group chat.

      [REMINDER]
      No one outside of employees should be using their work laptops to use them for non-work purposes (e.g. the unfortunate instance of recently posted explicit video that was quickly taken down). It was a mistake and the company has accepted the employee’s apology. We are moving on from it and you should to. As amusing as you think it may be to comment or joke about this incident to each other or to the OP, HR strongly recommends that you don’t as HR action may be taken to counter any harassment due to this mistake.

      1. Shad*

        That seems like it’d only be rubbing salt in the wound by drawing attention to the fact that it happened.

      2. Observer*

        No, do not do this. The last thing you want to do is to highlight the message in any way.

        Also, without knowing how the poor woman made this mistake and the specifics of this company and how this group works, almost any reminder about best practices is likely to come of as very strange.

        Also, the tone here is way to severe and adversarial. It also will feed the gossip mill in ways that are going to be very hard to shut down.

      3. It Me*

        Oh for the love of goodness, no. I really would not recommend this. This would draw way too much attention to it – it will get people talking about it, especially going to a group of 200 people, many of which likely do not even know that it happened/didn’t see it the first time. Incidents like this being addressed to a mass group in that way always makes me side-eye. This should really just fade into the background very quickly without drawing more attention to it.

      4. Diahann Carroll*

        That would only work if HR at OP’s company approved this messaging. Honestly, every place I’ve ever worked has had a zero tolerance policy for porn – if they found it on your computer or, god forbid, you shared it from your work-issued computer, they would let you go. OP may want to double check the employee handbook to make sure she even has a choice in this matter regarding keeping her employee on – if they have this zero tolerance language, HR’s hands may be tied here.

        1. Michael*

          Tied by… who? I’ve never understood that. I work for a pretty sizable firm, and while HR certainly has *policies,* it’s not like they’re some divine revelation that can’t be altered or have exceptions made to them if the actual human beings involved think it’s appropriate.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            A lot of this stuff is agreed on by the company’s risk management officer(s) and other C-level execs that are higher up than the HR department. The appropriate action after an internal HR investigation would usually be dictated by or at least signed off by those people.

              1. Michael*

                Right, exactly! The point is that there’s a human element here, and people can exercise discretion. If HR is in a position to have to fire someone that neither HR nor their manager thinks should be fired, the next step is to escalate to whoever sets policy, not just wash your hands of the whole thing.

        2. Phoebe*

          I work for a Fortune 500 company, old industry, conservative approach to business. Our polices are spelled out and on porn it’s zero tolerance. If this happened, the person would be let go.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            What if it was due to a virus? Phone hacking is getting really tough and common, and many people access work chats via phones now.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              This is a good question, and I wish we had someone from legal and/or risk management who work at companies with this kind of policy to answer it. Hacking and phishing are huge problems, and I’d hate to think someone would be fired over something like this if they were hacked/phished.

              1. Samhain*

                If this was NOT company time, and the LW clarifies also that it was almost certainly a persona device; how do they have access to a company main announcements chat room?? Access to this company chat should only be from company owned/issued equipment, not from personal devices. Segregation of personal life and professional life people!

                For any company who would have this sort of policy folks on this thread are asking about, there would be URL and web site category filters in place on their Internet connection that would block the majority of porn sites – even any “hacking” or “malware” excuses other commenters have thrown about. So if a user does get to a porn site, there is credible reasoning and documentation for their termination per the company policy. There is usually other events and activity involved, to bypass such security controls, and get their pr0n fix.

                1. Princesa Zelda*

                  If their company uses anything from Slack to Skype to Teams to Discord, they all have phone apps. It’s not at all unusual for people to have these on their personal devices.

              2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                We had an employee suspended after he sent round a link to the department that pointed to an explicit website. He said he hadn’t sent it and his computer must be infected. We worked at a firm with positively draconian rules (joys of working for a monopoly).

                HR didn’t want to believe him, but luckily he worked in IT with us and we tore the computer, domain controller and email server apart to see if he was right.

                And he was. Kind of. Turns out another employee in IT at HQ had some grudge or something against our coworker and had administrative rights to most servers. He’d set it all up. It took a VERY long meeting with HR for us to explain how our pages of technical info meant that it was proof that coworker had not sent that email but in the end they accepted, our coworker returned to work and the guy at HQ ended up suspended (but not fired) for inappropriate use of IT and had his admin privileges revoked for a year.

                We had, in the past, gone to similar lengths to defend employees of the firm from similar incidents but I’m ashamed to say it largely depended on our current workload and whether we personally believed the employee ourselves. Being nice to your IT department can work miracles (and of course being nice to any department frankly, I don’t know the currency of other professions but Liquorice Allsorts and/or being pleasant and listening seems to work for most techies)

                1. Helena1*

                  Surely if the first guy merited a sacking, the guy who deliberately set out to get a coworker fired by sending porn to everyone merited the same?

          2. Kevin Sours*

            This is really terrible. I think everybody I know has an “accidental porn at work” story. This is a somewhat extreme example, but it’s really not hard to click on the wrong link, go to the wrong website, or have somebody send you something inappropriate.

          3. JSPA*

            surely there’s a loophole for “unintentional.” Especially as she doesn’t have to have accessed the site herself, not used a work computer, for this to happen.

          4. Fresh Prince?*

            I once witnessed a conversation between a coworker and a manager from another team, in which the manager was insisting that when he went on holiday he had a doughnut made by a company called “Milfresh” and it was really nice. He jokingly said “Google it!” and the employee did so, getting exactly the results you would expect from typing “milf fresh” into Google.

            Everyone laughed their heads off, the manager went to the IT person to relay the story and tell her to ignore the alerts which she was almost inevitably receiving, and that was the end of that. And this wasn’t even a “hacked” or “accidentally clicked a dodgy ad” or “typo’d a url” situation – this was “25 year old man makes the questionable decision to Google MILF at work”

        3. Observer*

          Zero tolerance for porn – but on company equipment and company time. Even from the letter it was clear that it was NOT company time, and the LW clarifies also that it was almost certainly a persona device. Any HR that’s going to push for a firing in the situation, on the basis of “zero tolerance” is not doing it’s job very well.

      5. Dagny*

        That is not going to come off the way you want it to. It would only highlight the problem, get people who didn’t see the link to ask about it, and make her feel worse.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          But, reworking it to discuss phishing and malware could work since reminding people to be careful clicking on unknown links is always worthwhile and suggests that was what happened.

          1. CynicallySweet*

            Still think that would call too much attention, assuming she got rid of it quickly the goal is to minimize exposure. Even if it’s pivoted toward malware/phising, the narrative then becomes “so and so clicked on a crap link n now we’re stuck w/ this stupid training”

          2. Anonapots*

            Not every moment has to be a teachable moment. Sometimes it’s okay to just things go by without saying anything.

      6. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Definitely draws too much attention to what may be an honest mistake.
        She may have been hacked. Her PC may have a virus. She may have had her email harvested, like I did in the 90s (and omg that was an education).
        And it may be totally irrelevant, if the chat app is loaded on her personal device. Or if if there is an email to chat feature– heck it might not even have originated with her email. There are viruses that sends an infected link to everyone in Fergus’s contact list, pretending to be one of the people on that contact list other than Fergus.

      7. Anonymosity*

        Eh, I really wouldn’t do this, since there is no real way they can know why it happened. There are just too many variables as to how this could have happened, and as people have pointed out, it would just make it worse to draw that much attention to it.

      8. Marthooh*

        The first half of the first sentence maybe, but then DON’T go on to say, “That’s what happened! That’s all that happened! Move along, now!” Alison gets all kinds of letters complaining that, e.g., “Fergus flosses his teeth at his desk after lunch, so HR sent everyone an insulting email reminding them not to do personal-hygiene-related things in public areas.” Just put out a vague, stern, embarrassed message warning employees not to let their email get hacked. Then everyone will figure that the thing management isn’t saying outright is the thing that’s true.

    7. Smithy*

      Exactly….and perhaps this just shows the type of person I am, but if the employee is able to recover – (echoing the letter from yesterday) these are the types of motivational stories that I respond to!

    8. AKchic*

      Yeah. Teens are… troublesome.

      I can tell so many stories of embarrassing things that have happened due to my own teenagers. The time one of them took my Kindle to school to use instead of their own, and when opening up the internet browser (when the Kindle was already hooked up to the projector for the class) discovered that my husband and I had been viewing adult content last. Whoops. He was supposed to take *his* Kindle to school. He chose mine because it had a bigger screen.

      Totally agree on putting plausible excuses into the employee’s world. Because *of course* that’s what happened.

        1. AKchic*

          None of the teenagers have ever taken my Kindle to school again. All of the kids had their own. Mine was just the next size bigger (screen-wise).
          We were very lucky that the teacher in question happened to be a friend. I still got a phone call, but it was a laughing one.

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      My sympathy to Jane. If I were a co-worker who saw this (and most in my group would not! we don’t check the announcements immediately), I would assume she got a virus; if I brought it up at all it would be in a ‘ugh, viruses are getting sneakier All The Time’ way. (This is actually a plausible scenario, if she’s got the company chat on her phone; I’ve seen articles as recent as December about phone hacking [PC Mag, Dec 2 “Android Malware Abuses App Permissions to Hijack Phones”].)

      10ish years ago, I had a co-worker ask for help with some pop-ups on his computer that were taking over. He was super apologetic, as several of them were graphic ads. It was immediately clear to me he’d hit a trap page through some casual browsing, back when there were a lot of them under things like ’10 great gardening tips!’. I found the virus, walked him through getting rid of it, and warned him about trap pages. We never spoke of it again, though we worked together until his retirement two years ago.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I’ll be honest, I’d assume that she copied the link into the wrong window. But if she told me it was a virus I’d swear under oath that I believed her.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’d just assume it was a bad case of URL misspelling if it was a one off, I’ve seen hundreds of such cases in the years I’ve worked IT and if this incident had for some reason landed in my queue these days I’d just delete the post (maybe any replies too to remove drama) and discretely advise the poster to check URLs, run regular virus scans…the usual.

        Computers, especially distributed computing systems, are prone to the odd mishap from users and I’m of a belief that if you mess up it’s better for someone to understand that mistakes happen and to educate you how to avoid that in future.

        I’ve made some big errors in my career (one affecting the performance of over 30,000 machines) so I’m no paragon of virtue myself!

        1. nonethefewer*

          Very agree. I wouldn’t start paying attention unless it starts seeming like a pattern, at which point my first thought is “f*cking malware”. (I’m in infosec.)

    10. animaniactoo*

      To be completely honest, when I was younger I had a period of time where I’d stumbled on a bunch of fun/particularly odd sex toys and other sexually related items, and entertained myself and my friends by sending them links and discussing them/appreciating them. Out of several products, there was only one that I was even interested in owning and that was for the sheer novelty of it (a sexually explicit stuffed animal). So, yeah. This is totally plausible.

    11. Artemesia*

      Me too. If she quits this will become legend and her name will forever be attached to it in the industry. If it is ‘teen prankster’ or any of the other excuses, it will blow over. It can be ‘teen prankster and I am so mortified’ and then ignore.

      1. Least said, soonest mended*

        This is an excellent point: her quitting over it attaches her to it and makes it into A Hilarious Story for other people to tell for a long time. Letting it blow over allows it to become a hilarious story she herself can tell, eventually (a looooong-distance eventually, I suspect).

        Honestly, if I were on the list of recipients, my first thought would be that some nasty disgruntled ex posted it to embarrass her, and I’d have all the sympathy in the world.

        Add me to the chorus saying do not do not do not do not do not do not say anything at all to the group chat. Ignore it, and people will come up with all kinds of reasons why it might have happened, and then they’ll get distracted by wondering if it could happen to them.

      2. Anonny*

        Or like “I ran a scan and found some malware on the laptop, so I guess that’s where it came from.” Always good to remind people about the importance of computer maintenance and security.

          1. Anonny*

            I once had some computer problems – nothing involving posting porn, thank god – and I did a quick Malwarebytes scan, and it dug up like, 30something bits of malware. Now I do them weekly.

      3. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

        Better to be known internally for teen prankster than known everywhere as “CHUNG IS KING in his domain here in Seoul.”

        Man that’s sure some ancient workplace internet legend huh?

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I’d forgotten about those emails! They are hilariously douchebro-like, and I hope the unfortunate sender has matured considerably since.

    12. Aswin kini*

      If she is a great employee, I’d rather have her lie or maybe send a statement stating her mobile was affected with a virus or her phone was hacked… I’d rather lie and retain a good employee than letting her go for a glaring, but not-so-harmful mistake. Yes, she will still face consequences, but hey, the damage has been done. By providing believable reasons like hacking/virus infection, she can at least save what’s left of her reputation. I am really sorry for her, it sucks to be in a similar situation.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        “….and that is how I ended up taking vows as a Carmelite nun under the name Sister Scholastica Rufina.”

    1. Happy Pineapple*

      I feel so bad for her. I would want to melt into the floor and disappear.

      Something similar happened to an old boyfriend of mine; his social media was hacked and started spamming the public profiles of all his contacts, including relatives and mentors, with violent pornography. Thankfully I was talking to him when it started happening, showed him the message “he” just sent me, and he was able to shut it down quickly. He was MORTIFIED but everyone was incredibly understanding.

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I did something really stupid in college that I’m still embarrassed about today. My boss yelled at me big time for it so I quit later that day. Then he called me saying we could work it out after he saw my letter of resignation, but I didn’t want to because I was too embarrassed to go back.

    I’m wondering if I should have stuck it out now?

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, staying resigned was probably a wise decision.

        If you CAN work it out with your problem employee, why are you yelling?

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I was going to ask did he actually yell at you? because yes, it’s good you resigned. I hope time allows you to see that your response was more flight from an abusive situation than flight from an embarrassing situation.
      So no, you should have stayed if you didn’t have to. People make mistakes. 6 figure mistakes. You fix it, learn from it and move on.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This is an interesting distinction I never considered. He would probably say he never yelled at me, but I know I certainly felt that way. Who knows for sure.

        Maybe it was a form of protection, and I wrote it off as shame because I was 100% at fault in the first place.

        You’ve shed new light on a 25 year old incident. Thank you!

        1. Close Bracket*

          I certainly felt that way.

          I’m thinking he admonished you and was pretty emphatic about it, but didn’t actually raise his voice in anger. Strong admonishments are hard to take at any point in your career, but they are especially hard early in your career when you haven’t experienced them before. Maybe you could have stuck it out, maybe not. The question now is, have you learned how to cope with that kind of screw up and repercussions and what will you do differently in the future, not just in action but also in interpretation?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I would rework my POV on this one.

      You messed up on something, perhaps that itself was enough to resign over. But being yelled at by a superior is 100% a solid reason to resign immediately. Ef that. I don’t do yelling.

      Sticking it out is something you do when you still trust the people involved. I don’t trust anyone with a loose temper.

  3. PugLife*

    oh NO. O can only imagine how awful she feels …. I have had nightmares about doing that same thing!

    LW seems to be a genuinely good boss with the right take on the situation! I hope it works out and the employee is able to move through this. The fact that she’s on vacation probably helps, too – it’s not like it was accidentally posted *while she was in the office* which would make it exponentially worse.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I really hope so, too :/ To answer some of people’s questions – she was on PTO, so not work hours, and was using her (non-company-issued) phone. So, at least on that front, there are no issues. I’ve never doubted her professionalism in any capacity.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        As I said above, if I were her co-worker I’d assume her phone got hacked. I hope she comes back.

      2. Artemesia*

        Really push the ‘everyone thinks oh no she got hacked’ and virus, prankster, etc’
        My mother once got porn on her machine and the ‘helpful neighbor’ told her it meant that her children or grandchildren had looked at porn on her computer so naturally she asked me, her then middle aged daughter, if I had done so. (yeah hot babes) She insisted that it could only happen if someone had done that. I asked her if she got (assorted current spam at that time — as I recall it involved real estate, bank loans etc) and she said yes and then I explained to her some of the ways the internet works to target you. And also what clicking on a neutral seeming site might invite. And then we removed those links. But everyone knows there can be these nefarious hacks and pranks — so go with ‘virus’ or ‘prank’ and let it die.

      3. Blueberry*

        Incidentally, you are an awesome boss and person. So many people would decide that their squick reaction to porn, either in general or in specific, meant that the employee was Defiled Forever in their eyes and had to go immediately.

        1. TechWorker*

          I know companies might have blanket policies about things on company time or company equipment… but I wouldn’t have thought there are that many managers who’d have a strong response to ‘knowing their employee views porn on their own time’…? Feels a bit like ‘and..?’

          1. Blueberry*

            There are a lot of people who reallllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyy disapprove of porn, any porn, no matter what, and think anyone who views porn is depraved and/or evil. I’ve heard that from people ranging from church deacons to ardent feminists. I personally think that’s pearl clutching nonsense on all their parts, but, well.

            1. Starbuck*

              There are plenty of reasons someone might object, especially depending on the type of content and abuse involved in creating it. Not all porn is legal, for one thing….

              1. Blueberry*

                I wasn’t talking about objecting to porn that involves illegal and/or evil content. I was talking about people who object to any visual or even textual expression of human sexuality as necessary deviant and/or evil. A similar difference to that between, say, thinking a TV show that showed real executions should never be made and thinking that no TV shows should ever be made or watched because someone could make one that showed real executions.

                Anyway, the discussion of whether or not it is necessarily pathological for human beings to create and view works that depict sexuality is really one for another website and definitely another post.

      4. CB212*

        I have several slack workspaces loaded on my phone, some for work and some purely social. (AND on my iPad, AND on my pc.). I’ve definitely posted content to the wrong channel in a workspace… often! Never to the entirely wrong space, but I can totally see that happening.

      5. tangerineRose*

        I wonder if most people even watched it – it probably didn’t look like regular work stuff, and a non-work video sent on a chat would make me think it could be a virus.

      6. sb51*

        I wouldn’t go with the “hacked” angle myself because it sounds like a transparent excuse, but “a friend and I have an ongoing escalation of sending each other weird links” comes off entirely reasonable. A little childish, maybe, but just silly, not implying anything about their personal tastes in entertainment.

        1. Starbuck*

          I think that kind of excuse absolutely would imply something about their personal tastes in entertainment since it’s saying that the viewing/sending the link was intentional, just misdirected? I think that of the various excuses, this one is not the best.

  4. Michael*

    I’ve had this nightmare.

    The closest I’ve come is accidentally FaceTiming an employee instead of calling them when I was undressed and working from home (I had just gotten out of the shower and received an email that needed a quick response). They picked up (confused since it wasn’t normal, but happy to FaceTime if I wanted to for some reason) before I could hit cancel. As soon as the ‘connected’ noise came up I let out a high pitched scream (I’m a 6’1” 200lb man) and threw my phone across the room.

    They didn’t see anything but were awfully confused.

    1. llamaProjectManager*

      I’m now sitting at my desk, tears streaming down my face from laughter, hearing a Ned Flanders scream in my head. I know it must have been mortifying (and I too would have reacted the same way) – but this was the laugh I needed today.

      1. It's a Yes From Me*

        OMG, I think I’m laughing as hard as you. This is an epic story that needs to appear in a sitcom or comedy film!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I once connected to what I thought was going to be a voice-only Skype call — with a business contact — straight out of the shower, with dripping wet hair and only a bra on above the waist.

      There was video.

      I slammed my laptop shut and then claimed there were some technology difficulties that MY SISTER had been trying to fix for me. Like I literally implied that it had been her, not me. (Sorry, Jenny.)

        1. boo bot*

          LOL oh noooo!

          So, for some reason on the iPad there’s a thing in the texting app where you can make and send a voice recording without leaving the app. It’s really easy to do. So easy, that I accidentally made an audio recording and sent it to my ex-boyfriend.

          Fortunately we’re still friends and it was just white noise, but WHAT IF WE WEREN’T AND IT WASN’T?

          1. buffty*

            My *cat* once called my ex in the middle of the night. We weren’t and aren’t friends, so it was very awkward and I don’t think he ever believed me, but that’s the only explanation I have.

            1. nonegiven*

              When caller ID was new, the cat called someone back, who had just left a message for DH. I don’t think he believed me when I told him the cat did it. The cat heard the message and was walking around and hit the return the call button on the separate caller ID.

      1. I coulda been a lawyer*

        And if anyone needs a sister to blame, feel free to use me! If only because, if I was your sister, and I was using or trying to fix your computer, of course I would do it soaking wet, half naked, drinking a beer, eating a sloppy joe, reading a porn magazine, and pushing every random button that would cause the thing to happen.

      2. HelloHello*

        As someone who works from home and uses a call system that sometimes unexpectedly auto-launches with video, this is my greatest fear. To the point that about a year ago I got a toggle-able cover for my laptop camera and only uncover the camera if I specifically have a video call I need to be on camera for. You can find super cheap options online quite easily – the one I bought was called “0.03In Ultra Thin-Slide Web Cam Cover” and was $6 for a five pack – and it’s given me so much peace of mind to know I won’t unexpectedly show up on video when I’m not ready for it.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          And you don’t need to tell people that’s why you have a camera cover.

          They sell those because hackers can indeed access that thing, so you should have them covered for safety unless you specifically remove it. So “It’s not like I would EVAAAAAA accidentally do that but those pesky hackers….”

          1. Dagny*

            Or blame the cat, which is what I do. “She loves to walk on the keyboard; she’s already sent emails, and it’s only time before she starts video-chatting with strange tomcats in chat rooms.”

            1. Queen Anon*

              I know someone whose cat walked on her keyboard and filed her taxes before she was done reviewing them. (Pretty sure it turned out ok!)

            2. The Dread Pirate Buttercup*

              My cat is very busy lending plausibility to your argument — she’s worked out that walking across the laptop keyboard will change the noises that come out of it, and has Opinions about human music. (Haaaaaaates Pierce Brosnan’s singing so much that I use Mamma Mia clips to bring her out of hiding when guests are about. Sorry, Mr. Brosnan. She also dislikes Rocio Durcal. How can one dislike Durcal?) She’s also “watched” a solid half hour of a Katherine Heigl romcom that she apparently pulled up via Amazon Prime recommendations while I was out doing errands.

              BUT back to the topic: you can just use a bit of masking tape to cover the camera, in a pinch. My tablet doesn’t seem to have a “don’t turn on my webcam unless I go in and change the settings” setting, which seems to this cat owner to be a bit of a “duh” feature.

                1. Gazebo Slayer*

                  @Buttercup – it’s a reference to a long-standing legend among D&D players of a group of players who responded to their DM mentioning that they see a gazebo by attacking the gazebo (apparently not realizing what a gazebo is and assuming it was some kind of monster).

              1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                My cat has figured out how to swipe things on the touchscreen. I often come back and find all of the windows moved around because she’s been swiping stuff.

              2. tangerineRose*

                Your cat’s not wrong about Pierce Brosnan’s singing in Mamma Mia. Occasionally he sounded mostly OK, but mostly I was cringing.

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              My cat managed to auto-mark all emails from my boss as spam. I could not undo it, and eventually had to make him a VIP so work emails would show up there plus the junk folder.

              She also has managed to like things on my son’s phone.

            4. Prof. Space Cadet*

              There was a news article a year or two ago about a cat that accidentally submitted a grant application. It got funded.

          2. BluntBunny*

            Yes when I took my laptop to repair the man noticed I had tape over the webcam and said that’s a smart thing to do.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          I just taped a piece of paper over my laptop’s camera – I hate that Teams auto launches with video turned on. No one needs to see me!!!

          1. MM*

            Yeah, until I went to a workshop at my university where they were giving out free camera covers, I just used a piece of blue tape (and drew a big black dot in Sharpie over the part where the tape covered the actual lens, just to make doubly sure there was no transparency).

            1. Artemesia*

              The foil stars you use on kids’ charts work fine too. I also use them on the little device lights that inhabit my bedroom at night. Every dang thing has a little green light shining in the darkness.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Big thank you from someone who can’t sleep unless it’s dark. (Now imagine my finding that out on a summer student exchange in Norway. Shudder.)

                1. kitryan*

                  For a purposful solution to this, there’s these things called Lightdims that are made just to cover those irritating lights. They come in a couple colors and opacities and remove cleanly.
                  More on topic, I use washi tape for covering my webcams because it doesn’t seem to leave much/any residue. Also my cat once inverted the colors on my laptop.

            2. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

              i use a glittery cat sticker on mine in order to cement my reputation as Office Cat Lady.

          2. Relentlessly Socratic*

            My work computer has a fruit label stuck on from whatever fruit I was eating the day I picked up my laptop.
            Hmm. My home computer has an actual switch to turn off the camera–now I am wondering if that switch is sufficient?

            1. Iris Eyes*

              The sufficiency of the switch is directly related to whether or not you have a young child or cat.

        3. North Wind*

          I’ve worked from home for several years now, and for a long time my desk and office space was in my bedroom. I bought the stick-on web-cam slider covers, put one on my laptop, and then put tape over it as well (they fall off pretty easily). I do a LOT of video-conferencing, in that I need to use screen-share, but actual video camera is rarely needed. The few times it was, I plugged in an old USB web cam for the meeting, and removed it right after. (This has the advantage of a narrower view and the ability to aim it up toward the ceiling if the room is messy ;) ).

          No one can be hyper-aware of their camera 24/7, especially if it’s literally part of the furniture. Accidents just waiting to happen!

        4. Jaid*

          I got a bunch of stickers for the cameras on my desktop, tablets and front face of my cell phone. I don’t do selfies, so I didn’t need that exposed…

        5. Elizabeth West*

          I have a pack of blackout stickers to block the light from electronics, so I just used that.

        6. TiffIf*

          I put a piece of electrical tape over my work laptop camera lens about 12 hours after I got it and have had it covered ever sense.

        7. always in email jail*

          I have one of these but now I’m always afraid it’s un-toggled or whatever, like that it actually isn’t covering the camera for some reason. I need to go back to good ol’ black electrical tape.

      3. theelephantintheroom*

        HAHAHAHA! Oh, that’s amazing. My company was kind enough to give us all computers that have those little slider things to cover up the camera. I closed mine as soon as I got it because I just KNEW I would accidentally hop on a video call with someone while not dressed appropriately.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          My company is one of those that DOES send out weird passive-aggressive “dress-code” e-mails company-wide because some dude accidentally jumped on a call without a shirt on (not knowing it was a video call). They expect us to keep our cameras uncovered. None of us keeps our camera uncovered anymore.

      4. Quill*

        This is 900% the reason I always get a camera cover. Once answered a call from a friend wearing my pajamas and did not know 1) that I was accepting it on video 2) that accepting it lying on my stomach in bed made it pretty clear that we’d entered the no bra portion of the evening.

      5. Kai Jones*

        Every device I own has a piece of paper obscuring the camera to prevent this. I video chat with my grandkids by taking the paper off!

      6. Anonymous Quokka*

        My husband and I were engaging in … adult activities, and somehow he swiped on his smartwatch exactly the wrong way and we called 911. I hung up and THEY CALLED BACK. It was so embarrassing…

        1. Zephy*

          I butt-dialed, pocket-dialed, and boob-dialed 911 with my old phone (Samsung Galaxy S7), because it had an “Emergency Call” button on the lock screen that I never figured out how to disable. It’s amazing I never got fined.

          1. not really a lurker anymore*

            It’s ok. We’re rather have the accidental call than the real ones.

            And we have to call back because of several cases where someone was calling 9-1-1 and their attacker hung up the phone and they died because no one called back to verify that the call was made accidentally.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I butt-dialed it way back when I had a little LG feature phone and put it in my back pocket while making my lunch at work. I was so confused when it rang (and then embarrassed). Those phones had the 1 key pre-programmed with no way to turn it off, so I just avoided pocketing it after that.

          3. Burned Out Supervisor*

            I purse dialed 911 when I hit the emergency button in my apartment’s elevator. My first instinct was to flee in embarrassment, but my husband hung back to deal with the person. They told him thanks for staying because if they hadn’t, they’d assume a medical emergency that rendered the person non-responsive and would have sent people out.

        2. JoAnna*

          I gave my toddler my phone (which was on silent) to occupy her during my grandmother’s funeral. Big mistake. She called 911 and I had to duck out and call them back to let them know there was no emergency.

      7. Towel boss*

        I basically did the same thing last weekend.

        I have regular video conference calls with clients so I don’t always notice whether my camera slider is on/off.

        Last weekend, the team was working overtime on a client project and requested a call with me for escalation issues. I was at home and getting ready to go out and had just showered and was in a towel. I answered the call and realized immediately it was video conference. Basically, I dived into the floor trying to get out of view of the camera and in the process made a lot of noice flipping a chair and dragging things off my desk. Next thing I heard on the computer was “are you in a towel and are you okay? And people trying to control themselves from laughing.

        Notes: I am a female manager and manage 11 male software engineers.
        My team knows that I live alone and cannot easily blame or pretend it was someone else

        I walked into office on Monday pretending it never happened and it shall remain that way.

      8. Curmudgeon in California*

        ROTFLMAO! You threw your sister under the bus? Hahahahaha.

        Yes, I’d throw a roommate under the bus, but we’d laugh about it.

      9. tangerineRose*

        This is why there is tape over the computer’s camera – I haven’t done that but have fears of it

      10. Windchime*

        hahahah this literally made me laugh out loud in an empty house!!! And I would probably throw my own sister, whom I love dearly, under the bus over it as well.

      11. Rosie*

        Lololollll
        I was recently in an online branch meeting for a voluntary organisation. We were all calling from our homes. A woman wearing nothing but a towel walked in and out of and around the living room behind one of the members *for some minutes*, and none of us felt quite able to mention it…

    3. some dude*

      I took a web development class in college and one of the links on a page I created was to a porn site. A classmate pointed it out via a discreet email. It was…embarrassing. This is 50 levels above that embarrassment.

      1. Artemesia*

        We had to use a code to make a long distance call and one weekend I was in the office to fax something and used my code as usual, but they had changed the system and it turned out my code was the same as a local porn store fax number, so I faxed my social security number and other confidential information needed for an invoice for a speaking engagement to a porn store. Luckily the clerk who got the fax, called our office on Monday morning rather than stealing my identity and running up charges somewhere. I took a while living that down.

    4. SubwayOn*

      I did that! Only it was my PASTOR and I hadn’t meant to call at all.. I was carrying my phone around and must have hit the wrong key (which is really weird, because I never FaceTime). I only realized what happened when I heard him saying ‘hello?’ from my phone. Thankfully I was…erm… partially attired… and the room was fairly dark.

      I never hung up so fast in my life.

      I then called his wife to explain – thankfully she thought it was hilarious! She was also able to discretely find out that he hadn’t ‘seen’ anything without spilling the beans on the situation.

      1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

        Oh lord, I had my phone in my bra yesterday (don’t judge me) and somehow actually managed to pause and restart play on my podcast several times as I did some chores (what can I say, my boobs are talented – the left one at least).

        Only now am I having a chill realizing what could have happened if Leftie decided to FaceTime my boss or something! :o

    5. Gail Davidson-Durst*

      Bwahahahaha! I’m sitting at my desk literally laughing out loud! (Also at Alison’s reply, heehee!)

    6. AKchic*

      Conference-calling into a meeting and my dog got very demanding for butt scritches. She knocked my phone out of my hand, stepped on the cat, who stepped on the phone (and unmuted me with her toebeans). The dog then started her very loud bear growls of enthusiasm while getting her two handed butt scritches (because they *must* be two handed to be done correctly). Everyone in the meeting heard my dog’s sounds, which can only be described as “bear having a joygasm” and me telling her to quit beating the cat with her tail and if she wanted her ass rubbed so badly, she needed to quit trying to sit on it because I can’t rub her butt from that angle.
      Yeah… the rest of the board and the members in attendance heard all of that. I was fortunate that I didn’t video in (because I was in bed and just didn’t want to deal with that).

      I will be attending all future meetings in person from now on.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Not fun when it happens but it sure makes a great story. I could see this happening to me, my dog lives for butt rubs…..

      2. CommanderBanana*

        SCREAMING.

        My big girl has unfortunately learned that if she starts to whine while I’m on speaker phone, she gets a toy so she’ll be quiet (and then starts to squeak the toy) so I warn everyone at the outset they may hear the mournful song of her people.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        That’s terrible and you should never accept just call back immediately on a regular voice call.

        FaceTiming is so intrusive!

    7. Elizabeth West*

      Thank you for this. I got a phone call job rejection today and I really needed the laugh.

    8. History Geek*

      Reasons my laptop as a little foam sticker over the camera. I can remove it easy and if the camera does connect people get nothing but black.

    9. Raquel*

      A friend of mine somehow posted a Facebook Live video of him defecating on the toilet. He sat there with the noises, visuals, all of it, while several of us joined the Live conversation to try to tell him what was going on. Still no idea how it happened, and I still laugh about it to this day.

    10. Elemeno P.*

      I once sent a few links to some executives. One of them was accidentally my most recently-copied item, which was thankfully an innocuous article about a casting announcement. One of the recipients let me know, so I replied with the correct link and said I hoped they enjoyed the casting announcement as well.

      It’s…a lot easier to brush it off when it’s not graphic porn, that’s for sure.

  5. Marny*

    I feel terrible for your employee, but if I were a member of the chat group, I would think this was the best thing to ever happen as it’s truly hilarious.

    1. Dragoning*

      Admittedly, as much as I would feel like resigning as the employee, it did make me think of stories shared here about holiday parties and the like.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Seconded.

      But I can’t deny that well, everyone will probably always think of her for this incident for the rest of their lives, too. I would probably want to quit or quit myself after that.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I think that if she and her boss act like it was a virus / hack and focus on that rather than on the content of what was posted, it will fade.

        1. CircleBack*

          Yup – “Remember that time Milicent accidentally clicked on porn malware?” “Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten. You have to be really careful these days.”

          1. Cinnamon*

            We have a shared computer at work for some specific tasks and a ditzy co-worker who also has access. After she used it one day all the Google ads on the side of webpages were for porn sites. We used this exact wording when it was brought up afterwards because I bet money she googled something incorrectly and clicked the first “sponsored”post instead of what she actually was looking for.

    3. HumbleOnion*

      I would also think it’s hilarious & I’m glad I’m not the only one. That being said, I’d also die of embarrassment if it were me.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Would have got a chuckle out of me for sure! I definitely agree with all the people who say it’s the reaction to the mishap that really defines the outcome. If it’s a bit of a laugh then explained as an accident/malware it’ll go down far more casually than if someone sends round all points emails or quits over it.

  6. Colorado*

    Oh gosh! I’m cringing for her. If she could only see into the future when everyone forgets and this is a (distant) funny work story. I really hope she doesn’t quit over this. I’ve heard the quote, “the curse of man is he forgets”. I’ve always disagreed. Let’s hope everyone forgets real quick. Best of luck!

    1. Artemesia*

      If she quits no one will ever forget; she will be legend.

      If she comes back and doesn’t give it a thought except ‘virus’ or ‘that wretched nephew’ — it will blow over quickly.

  7. 5 Leaf Clover*

    This is good advice, but involves being ever so slightly dishonest… because everyone IS having the reaction she’s picturing them having.

    1. fposte*

      This is the sort of deliberate pretense upon which our society thrives, and I’m all in favor of it.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Same. Honesty is not always the best policy. Plausible deniability is often a much better choice for everyone!

      2. Letter Writer*

        Yes, I think deliberate pretense is definitely the best way to go. It didn’t occur to me that I should also play a bit dumb here. It’s best for me to really emphasize to her that there are so many other plausible-ish explanations (and honestly, I think most people would be more than happy to accept the polite fiction).

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Deliberate pretense can be an early stage of “fake it, until you make it”. So we pretend things are okay with us, until one day, things are actually okay with us. Once we have done enough of our own stupid sh!t, we reach a point where we no longer care about other people’s stupid stuff. “Yeah, BTDT, you’ll live.”

        As a supervisor what I would look for here is if the person is taking responsibility or not. To my way of thinking she took the UTMOST responsibility. She removed it, she reported herself, she sincerely apologized.
        I’d work with her in a heartbeat. The people who are worrisome are the folks who say, “Problem? What problem?” Oh boy, they know how to make work days verrrry long.

    2. sunny-dee*

      I would put this in the category of pretending you didn’t notice if someone burped or passed gas in public. We all just pretend it didn’t happen, no one feels extended humiliation, we all move on. And we hope everyone does the same thing for us one day.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah this is like the letter where the woman was embarrassed to have peed herself. You just need a veneer of plausible deniability and all of polite society should know to grab hold of it, including the person who is embarrassed. This is how we all keep going sometimes.

    3. Jen S. 2.0*

      True, but LW is also correct that this will blow over in a few days when someone else humiliates himself at this office, and will be a “remember when” story soon enough. Jane can ride it out if she convinces herself to buy the polite fiction that no one saw it or cares.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, if I were a noble friend, I might “accidentally” post something embarrassing to the chat now myself to redirect attention a little.

        1. Quill*

          Something less spectacular but also embarassing enough to change people’s topic to “wow, there is SOMETHING in the water in group chat.”

          1. fposte*

            Exactly. Like a screenshot of a family squabble or something. (30 Rock viewers may remember Liz Lemon stripping down to her bra. No need to go that far.)

            1. Quill*

              I would probably have gone for a close up shot of my dog’s nostril. You know, for maximum accidental status.

        2. Goya de la Mancha*

          I’m not a noble friend, but I screw up enough on my own…just give it a few minutes.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        I mean, to be honest, this is a story that will probably always live on in infamy. Probably nobody is going to forget this. But that doesn’t mean you crawl into a hole and die! Or even quit, if you like everything else about your job.

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          Yep, “Remember that time Caitlyn sent us all porn?” would be the kind of thing we would laugh about for the next 40 years at my workplace.

          I do think LW’s poor employee will be forever stuck with this as her Fun Fact, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. At my office it would be a camaraderie-building kind of thing, especially if she’s the last person on earth you’d expect that to come from. The temp lit the microwave on fire with a bag of popcorn, Caitlyn spammed the group board with hardcore porn, VP Dave ended up with lacy panties in the infamous 2017 White Elephant Incident, and so on.

          People recover from incredibly embarrassing things all the time, and even if no one forgets it’s usually also true that no one actually cares!

          1. CynicallySweet*

            She’s just gotta own it! (once the initial mortification wears off obviously!) she’ll know she’s over it when she can also laugh (and as someone who was featured in the embarrassing Christmas stories round up, it is definately possible just takes time!)

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Yup! I once got caught on camera changing clothes in the server room, whole of the rest of IT saw me in bra and pants (long story as to why i did it in the server room and why I didn’t know there were cameras).

                I just joked it off in future by going “I’m off to the server room and NO I’m not taking my kecks off!”. Was even mentioned in my leaving card :)

      3. HumbleOnion*

        I feel like it’s the kind of thing you’d get over faster if you have more seniority at the company. I’m picturing Amy as a younger employee, with kind of a short tenure. I was at my last job for 8 years. If I did this at the beginning, I might also have wanted to quit. But 8 years in? Not as big of a deal.

    4. Snarflepants*

      Society often operates on subtle dishonestly. Probably why we all haven’t murdered each other, or fallen into a state of utter despondency.

      Why yes Grandma, I love your *burnt. raisin* cookies.

    5. humans are weird*

      I was literally explaining to my kiddo (4th grade) yesterday that if someone makes a harmless mistake or does something that kiddo himself would find to be embarassing (like fart, or have an accident while laughing too hard, etc), usually the polite thing to do is…. pretend you didn’t see it.

    6. OhNo*

      I mean, maybe? Honestly, my reaction if I saw it would just be to giggle a bit and then move on with my life. Sure, it might come up whenever my friends and I are having “weirdest work story” competitions, but I honestly don’t care what my coworkers are into (aside from the obviously illegal) and wouldn’t think any differently of them just because I accidentally found out.

    7. Dr. Pepper*

      They are indeed thinking that exact thing, but polite fiction is the fabric of society. We would not be able to coexist without it. Plausible excuses are there, not to convince anyone that this thing didn’t actually happen, but to make it easier for everyone, especially the perpetrator, to move on. People will only truly care for a passing moment, then it becomes just another mildly amusing anecdote.

  8. Mary*

    The first steps back into work will be the hardest after an embarrassing situation. So be there at the door to support her, and then just carry on as normal. But she might need a lot of encouragement to come in. What you said above will encourage her, she is a valued employee and you need her on your team. Just keep telling her that. It will be a 9 day wonder at most, she just needs to get through with her head held high. Best of luck to you both.

  9. MissGirl*

    I’m a little confused by this answer. If I was her coworker; my assumption would be she was watching porn on her computer, didn’t realize she had the link copied, and accidentally posted it. Why isn’t that considered a possibility?

    1. fposte*

      I think that’s being considered the likelihood, but it’s also why she’s super, super embarrassed, so AAM is suggesting some plausible deniability smoke.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The point is that there are a bunch of other ways it could have happened. Sure, maybe it’s what you said — but maybe it’s one of the dozen other explanations instead. The point is that it’s plausible that it’s something else.

      1. LionelRichiesClayHead*

        I think some of us are confused why the fact that this is the most likely scenario isn’t being addressed. So it’s fine that she was watching this on her work computer? The OP was only asking about embarrassment damage control but typically you’ll touch on the side issues as well that the OP may not be considering.

          1. Annony*

            Does the advice change if it was her work laptop? The fact that she wants to mail her laptop back to the company suggests it might be.

            1. Temporarily Anon*

              I think she was proposing mailing her laptop back just so she could quit without showing her face in the office.

        1. LionelRichiesClayHead*

          Alison-saw your response to another comment that answers my question. I made an assumption that she was on a work computer even though I also have access to work stuff on my personal devices. Thanks!

        2. Mockingjay*

          I surmised that the employee took her work laptop with her on vacation and was using it for personal browsing and email, which explains why she was signed (probably automatically) into the company chat.

          We’re not allowed to do this at my company, but a lot of people use their work laptops for home stuff anyway. After all, it’s “free” and comes with a lot of expensive software you otherwise wouldn’t have.

          I suggest the OP look at the company IT policy.

          1. Observer*

            There are so many other possibilities, though. *IF* she were using a company issued device for personal use, then yes, look at IT policies. But that’s far from the only – or even most likely – situation.

          2. Kiwiii*

            Yeah, our company doesn’t care what we do on our work laptops while not at work. My manager always makes sure to have minecraft minimized at the bottom of his screen for the first couple weeks a new hire is here to really drive that one home.

          3. Blueberry*

            I and my coworkers have our work chat linked on our home computers (it’s how we ‘call’ in sick, etc). I try not to open it in a window with personal tabs, but sometimes people slip up.

          4. Diahann Carroll*

            I suggest the OP look at the company IT policy.

            Agreed. I’ve worked quite a few places where the IT policy said we were not supposed to be conducting any personal business, or doing anything personal at all, on company-issued computers. Of course, we all ignored it (who doesn’t check personal email at work?), but no one ended up in the embarrassing position of OP’s employee either.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              OP has updated– this was via her personal device.
              Now I’m wondering if she thought to tell her hotel in case their network is what where she got infected.

        3. Slackman*

          You can access a Slack chat from anywhere. There’s no assumption (or even strong likelyhood) she was on a work computer.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Well, she *has* a company computer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what she was using at that moment.

        4. BadWolf*

          You can (usually) log into your work slack on personal devices. I have coworkers who are logged into our work slack with their personal phones (you log in with your work credentials, magic, hand wave, 2FA, etc).

        5. Letter Writer*

          From what I gathered, she was on her phone. So the work laptop/work hours thing isn’t an issue.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Well that’s a relief on that end. I’d still take Alison’s advice and check with HR that everything’s good with your employee coming back. It doesn’t sound like it will be an issue in your office, but maybe having confirmation from them will also help your employee to understand that this isn’t a big deal and she doesn’t have to leave over something everyone knows was a mistake.

        6. AnotherAlison*

          Right? I know of a similar situation and the user was fired. The key differences — they were at work, and it wasn’t a link (they were broadcasting video inadvertently). Just accessing such a site on a work laptop is typically against policy.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            (And since I’ve now read other comments saying it could be a personal phone or computer, if I were to access my company skype with my personal phone, I had to check a box to comply with company policies on my device. I basically sign away my rights to my own device if I add work accounts to my phone. They can wipe it clean if they wanted to, probably because of something like this!)

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Yeah, this is why I do not access work apps from my personal phone. If my company wants me to have that functionality, they can provide me with a dedicated device.

              1. TiffIf*

                Yup! I think everyone in my department deleted our work chat (microsoft Teams) from personal phones once they started mandating we also download another app to verify our account that could let the company wipe our devices remotely.

            2. Diahann Carroll*

              My company is like this as well, which is why I opted into getting a company-issued cell phone. I do not want my company being able to dictate what I do on my own device that I pay for.

    3. Triple Threat Diversity Hire*

      Of course it’s a possibility, but OP wanted help getting the employee to stay and bringing that up sure isn’t going to help that cause…

    4. Spreadsheets and Books*

      It obviously is. Allison is encouraging the letter writer to assure her employee that there are other reasons this could have happened to help her feel better about it, and to (rightly or wrongly) believe that not everyone is assuming the exact scenario you posted.

    5. Kelly L.*

      Everybody knows that’s a possibility. These are polite fictions so she can save face and continue working there.

    6. Frank Doyle*

      Because as well as being the most likely, it’s also the most embarrassing possibility for her, and the idea is to move past this.

      1. Observer*

        It’s actually NOT the most likely possibility. Given that she was on vacation, she certainly wasn’t at work. And, unless most people have work issues computers at home, that’s not where my first thought would be.

        1. Annony*

          She wants to mail back her work laptop, so she definitely does have a work issued computer at home. It still may not be the one she used though.

          1. Observer*

            Unless (almost) everyone has a work laptop at home and it’s common to use them for personal use, that’s just not the first place most people’s minds are going, though.

        2. Yorick*

          I kinda don’t think it’s the most likely either. Mistakes happen, but people tend to be careful about that, so I would think it was a virus before I thought she was watching something by copying and pasting links but then put the link in work chat that she wouldn’t have been accessing on purpose anyway because she was on vacation.

    7. MissGirl*

      Isn’t her watching porn on her work computer something to address? I’m genuinely confused here. I’ve seen posts and comments that indicate this would usually be a firing mistake.

      Honestly, if I were her coworker I probably wouldn’t look at her the same way again. I understand her wanting to quit and start over somewhere else.

      1. Spreadsheets and Books*

        She’s on vacation, so Allison (and others) are making the assumption that she was logged in on her home computer or cell phone.

      2. K*

        She wasn’t necessarily watching on her work computer, many companies have apps that you can use on a personal device.

      3. Rainbow Roses*

        She was on vacation. Maybe it’s the type of chat room that’s not just for work related stuff. Maybe she wanted to say hi or post a vacation pictures instead but make that embarrassing mistake.

      4. Observer*

        What makes you think she was on a work computer? She was on vacation?

        So many group communications platforms can be accessed pretty much from anywhere that it’s HIGHLY unlikely that it’s reasonable to assume that “Posted to work group” == “posted from a work computer”.

      5. Aitch Arr*

        If I were the manager, I would be pro-active and inform HR before one of the employees who saw the chat post does.

        HR will do an investigation, including finding out whether the employee was using a company device in violation of any policies.

        The manager may want to save the employee from any disciplinary action, but that may not be possible.

      6. Yvonne*

        It’s her boss who wrote the letter, so clearly whatever she was or was not doing on a computer that may or may not have been work issued is not an issue here.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          It absolutely is.

          Even if she wasn’t on a work computer and it was done unintentionally, the employee posted explicit content to a corporate-owned tool/resource.

          Likely there is an IT or Harassment Prevention Policy that covers such matters.

          I am NOT saying the employee should be fired, but neither should the entire situation be swept under the rug. It would actually do more damage potentially to the employee and her boss if the situation is not addressed.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Agreed, and I said something similar above. Let HR figure out the logistics here before promising the employee that everything’s fine.

          2. Delphine*

            We can trust that the LW knows her company policies better than us. Her question isn’t about the HR ramifications, it’s about helping the employee see that she doesn’t need to resign.

              1. TechWorker*

                Except… it sorta is. It was posted from the employees non-company issued phone (as clarified above by LW) so the company has nothing to do with the links. The fact the employee removed it within a few seconds indicates it was clearly not intentional… I don’t think the advice is only to pretend it didn’t happen so much as LW has already assessed that they don’t care it *did* happen, therefore the most useful way to move on is to pretend it didn’t.

              2. DyneinWalking*

                It is. The intention is to give the employee some piece of mind. OP isn’t concerned so much about the employee having done a fireable offense – OP is worried about the employee quitting over this! Because she wants to keep her! So the advice concentrates on how to persuade the employee to not quit over this.

      7. HRadvocate*

        At my office watching porn on my work computer while I’m on vacation would absolutely not get me fired nor any other consequences, unless I left the porn up and opened it at work, which didn’t happen. Also, the manager is the person writing in, so she presumably knows whether or not it’s a fireable offense and has decided it isn’t. So even *if* big *if* she is watching porn using her work computer while she’s on vacation, it’s clearly not going to get her fired because the manager decided it shouldn’t and because everything else about this employee is model.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          It’s not necessarily up to the manager as to whether it’s a fireable or worthy of discipline offense.

          1. DyneinWalking*

            True, but if that’s the case, OP might consider to push back. A policy that requires the firing of perfectly good, even great, employees over honest mistakes is a stupid policy that creates more work than it solves. You don’t want to hire and train new people just because an already hired, trained, and overall professional person with good work ethics did a one-off mistake after years of employment. That’s NOT in the interest of the company.

      8. Blueberry*

        Several people addressed the fact that she wasn’t on her work computer, so I have a different observation. Is finding out that someone watches porn (outside of work) really that scandalous? Adults sometimes do adult things. Of all the things I might find out about a coworker I don’t think this is one that would make me “never look at them the same way again”.

          1. Blueberry*

            If it didn’t involve illegal activities/subjects I don’t see why we should care. Is everyone you know and like/approve of only into garden variety erotica? Do you know? Should you know?

            I saw your comments upthread, and — I agree with you that the LW may not be able to promise no disciplinary action will be taken against the employee, but I don’t agree that any should be taken, that it would do the company and its other employees more good to punish this employee, either privately or with a public firing, than it would do ill. Among other things it might appear that the company has a One Mistake And You’re Out policy, which might be harmful in its own way.

            1. Aitch Arr*

              I never said action should be taken against the employee.

              I did say that the manager couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t be and that I think it’s a mistake to hide what took place from HR. “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

        1. TechWorker*

          +1000, if you find out about this you should politely forget, I find it absolutely bizarre it would affect your professional opinion of someone. (What about all the coworkers secrets you don’t know?!)

          1. It's a Yes From Me*

            I agree! I’m really surprised at some of the pearl-clutching and lack of empathy I’m perceiving.

        2. Close Bracket*

          I do adult things in person at home all the time, but any mention of the details at work would cause me to move to Antarctica! I also wear underwear, like 99.9% of the office worker population, and I would be mortified if someone found a pair in my office, even if they got there by falling out of my gym bag. Personal stuff is personal, and lots of people are embarrassed to have it aired at work.

          1. Blueberry*

            Oh this is definitely embarassing, just like your examples. I cringed all over for the LW’s employee’s sake. But if, say, my friend told me “my skirt’s waistband broke and my coworkers saw my underwear so I must quit first thing tomorrow” I’d probably try to talk her into at least waiting a bit. I just still don’t think it would be necessary to leave a good job immediately over embarassment.

  10. Jedi Squirrel*

    Everybody’s entitled to their preferences. If this happened at my company, I really wouldn’t be fazed by it. (But I’m also older, and so less worried about these things.)

    I would definitely encourage her to frame it as a prank by a young relative, because I’ve been on the receiving end of that a few times and it really does happen. Hell, we have cats photographing themselves trying to break into their owner’s iPhones, so technology fails are a very real things these days.

    I wish the best for your spectacular employee and hope that you can give us a great update in the future.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I really like the “blame the relative thing”. IIRC she has a teenage brother (13ish?) so that might crazily work, actually.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Lol! I think they will have long forgotten this by the time he’s ready to enter the workforce.

          1. (insert name here)*

            Even if not, most hiring managers wont care about something that happened when he was 13.

    2. calonkat*

      I used to be one of the administrators of a gaming forum. I had to be VERY careful about what links I pasted into things, partly because I had to investigate the links that were posted. Rickrolling is not the worst sort of video that people think amusing to post. Investigate, document, delete, ban. But that meant that if I got an email from work (in the online access to email) or from another volunteer organization and hit ctrl-c, ctrl-v really quickly, I needed to be really sure the link I wanted was what I’d pasted.

  11. Optimus Prima Donna*

    Ouf….poor thing. I once accidentally activated the automatic shades in our company boardroom (Fortune 500 with the CEO attending) with my butt and I still get hot flashes thinking about it. I can only imagine how this feels….

    One suggestion is (and please take it as truly advice to help) is disciplinary action.

    Here’s why…. she knows she did wrong however innocent and can’t imagine how it will blow over or somehow be something she can atone for. Let her.

    Sometimes, too much comforting feels like the calm before the storm, something more ominous is coming. She can’t believe that a mistake that spectacular comes with no consequence and she is right! It needs to be handled.

    She made a mistake and so some correcting is needed. By focusing on the corrective actions being about double checking her information, proofing work (and yes, checking if a link works, whether its in a chat, on a power point, or even in a direct email is proofing work), ensuring that she keeps web browsing on her computer at work to a minimum so she doesn’t get viruses, and yes, not clicking suspicious links (or heaven forbid, not going to “personal interest sites” of any kind while at work, doing work, or using work equipment)..the manager and company are telegraphing that the see it is that an unfortunate situation brought on by a bit of carelessness, not something more reprehensible.

    They can support and retain her while also acknowledging that she needs to take steps to not let things like this happen again.

    1. Rachel*

      This is actually really good advice – I wouldn’t have thought about it, but if I was Jane, I would feel like I had some “closure” if it was addresses like this.

    2. Pollyanna*

      I see what you’re saying, but I disagree — primarily because Jane is apparently a spectacular employee that the LW really wants to keep, and she’s already mortified. Singling her out to focus on this seems like it could persuade her she really does have to quit.

      As far as taking steps, there’s no need: Jane is now by far the *least likely* of LW’s employees to ever do something like that again. So I guess I’m well into the “Never speak of this again” camp.

    3. Observer*

      Given that she was on vacation, it’s very hard to make the case that “corrective action” is needed here.

    4. Kiwiii*

      This seems excessive, between Jane immediately remedying the situation (deleting the link), taking actions to ensure it doesn’t happen again (attempting to resign), and being an otherwise stellar employee. It’s not as though she appears to not understand it’s a mistake.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        I think what OPD is saying is that even if Jane doesn’t need the corrective action from a disciplinary perspective, it might help her from a face-saving perspective.

        And I don’t think it needs to rise to the level of any kind of actual discipline – just a conversation along the lines of “yeah, that was dumb, and I know you know that, so please don’t ever do it again. So, how was the rest of your vacation? Did you go to the beach?”

        I agree with Observer and others that there’s clearly no need to discipline her, but some people might feel like they’re getting more closure with a quick “don’t do that again” conversation than with letting it blow over entirely. That way, she would know for sure that her boss knows about it, and that there will be no further consequences. I would definitely prefer that, rather than wondering about it forever!

    5. Mary*

      I was thinking this too. Not necessarily disciplinary action, but framing it as, “can we just address how this happened, and make sure it doesn’t happen again” puts it into “manageable mistake” rather than “the thing that nobody speaks of ever again”.

    6. Letter Writer*

      Actually, I think a very mild form of this may be a good idea. She’s always very proactive about asking for feedback, so it may make her feel MORE anxious if I completely gloss over the situation. I could maybe have a brief discussion on being careful, and then use that to provide closure. I need to think about that.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I also think this is a good idea for what it’s worth. It’s not chastising, and she may feel better that it’s not the elephant in the room every time she tries to talk to you.

      2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        While I’m not your employee, I am someone who would absolutely quit over a mistake like this. Having my boss be understanding and give me a “Be more careful, okay?” talk would help me immensely. As Optimus Prima Donna said, too much comfort can feel like the calm before the storm. I’d be wondering if my employer were lulling me into a false of security: are they just being nice to me so I won’t quit but they’re secretly searching for someone behind my back? Are they waiting to fire me at a time that’s more opportune for them? I’d feel far more relieved to be reassured that I wasn’t in trouble but to take this as a reminder to be more careful. Because if this did happen again, no one would believe it was an accident, so better to make sure it doesn’t.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t see anything wrong with saying, “Once is a mistake, twice is writable/firable/whatever.” This acknowledges that her concern is valid, it’s a big deal. But because of the way she handled it and because her regret is totally apparent you are able to let it go now, but if it happens again, you can’t let it go.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Not sure if it’s useful but:

        When I made a massive error in my job (it affected thousands of machines) I really did think I was going to be fired. My boss called me into a meeting and said

        “What you did caused problems, I’m not going to insult you by saying otherwise. BUT it was easily fixed, wasn’t illegal, didn’t cause physical harm to another. I’m 100% sure you’ll never do it again. So as long as you can cope with it being something of a joke around these parts you’ll do fine.”

    7. Iris Eyes*

      Some form of “penance” may indeed be very helpful to getting her back. Maybe as simple as retaking the course on IT security procedures or whatever. Its 10 minutes but it feels more resolved.

  12. Nobody Here by That Name*

    The only thing I feel is missing in the advice here is that it sounds as though the employee was watching porn on a company computer? In which case I’d think there’d need to be some kind of conversation about appropriate use of work equipment, esp since such things are usually explicitly banned in employee handbooks (no pun intended). If she was my employee I’d be wondering what else she was doing with company equipment/time that showed poor judgement. Not necessarily something to immediately fire her over, but still a conversation to be had about expectations.

    If I’m mistaken and she posted to the group chat from her personal phone or computer then this wouldn’t apply.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I mean …. yes. I am sure a lot of I.T. guys are hyperventilating right now and all the potential security issues.

      Still, there are a lot of jobs that require a lot of travel (I’m thinking specifically of sales), and based on overheard conversations, I think people turn a blind eye to certain kinds of things in certain situations. If someone is on the road 5 days a week, 3-4 weeks a month, it’s just not worth trying to police what they’re doing in their hotel room at 11pm on a Tuesday, you know?

      Or, the link could have come from her phone rather than her company laptop, and it’s still kind of the same scenario.

      1. Nobody Here by That Name*

        Yeah I have exactly 0 shame for somebody watching porn in their private time. I’m just saying the norm tends to be for companies to request that not be done on company computers, both for security reasons as you say and for wanting what goes on the computers to be appropriate (if for no other reason than to avoid the situation this employee finds herself in).

        As I said, if she was watching porn on a company computer I wouldn’t call it a firing offense per se, but it is something her manager might want to talk to her about. Even in your case it’s one thing to turn a winking blind eye, yet another to do nothing when it’s become public knowledge than an employee has broken a rule. (Assuming it is a rule, and again only if this was on a company computer. Like I said if it was her personal phone or computer this doesn’t apply.)

        Put another way: most companies turn a blind eye to people who check personal social media during working hours and most don’t police employee social media enough to notice or care if employees are making posts about hating their jobs. However if an employee accidentally shared a post in company chat called “Reasons why I think it’s okay to ignore your boss and slack off during the work day” with a timestamp of when they should’ve been working, I’d want to at least talk to that employee about what’s going on.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        She was on her personal device. LW has clarified.
        Yet another good reason not to cross the streams and use my device for work apps.

      3. Donkey Hotey*

        Eh, most of the IT guys I know would be hyperventilating primarily over the idea of a woman (gasp) watching porn.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She was on vacation when it happened. She presumably had logged into the company chat at some point from that computer (which could easily be her own).

      1. Nobody Here by That Name*

        I’ve worked with tons of people where “vacation” translated to “still checking email and doing work every day.” Which isn’t healthy but that’s why I didn’t think it was a given that her being on vacation meant she wasn’t using her work laptop.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          It could be, but when I do work at home I use my own laptop, so even if she was working while on vacation it doesn’t mean she was using company property to do it. I think if the OP were concerned about the employee using her computer to watch porn, she’d have mentioned it.

          1. Nobody Here by That Name*

            Yeah, I’m not saying the other options aren’t there. Just pointing out it seemed like an odd oversight to not address it if it was the case.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Same here. I have a desktop at my home that is mine, but I set up a work environment in it so I can log in to work resources. I have the work chat on that, my personal laptop and my phone, as well as work owned systems.

            It is very easy to end up with raunchy porn when perusing social media, gaming, or even just clicking on a cheesy ad on some “portal” site. I count myself lucky if that is all that happens. Browser viruses suck, and having to reinstall an entire system due to a dodgy ad is the pits.

      2. TootsNYC*

        or a relatives’ computer. Maybe she was at her uncle’s house and he said, “Sure, use my computer to check in at work.” Maybe she emailed herself a photo from her phone, opened her email on his computer, tried to copy the photo, and then went to Slack via the browser to paste the photo in.

        And…her “copy” keystroke didn’t take. I’ve had that happen at my own computer, or my phone, several times. And there I am, pasting in the last thing I’d saved on my clipboard, 2 hours ago.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      A lot of company internet policies would explicitly list this as a fireable offense. That’s not to say the LW’s staff person *should* get fired, just that it wouldn’t be surprising if this went against at least one workplace policy.

      1. TechWorker*

        On a personal phone? A company who has that as a written policy is overreacting imo, if you want to ‘own’ the phone then you have to provide it and pay for it.

    4. Optimus Prima Donna*

      I touched on it lightly in, “yes, not clicking suspicious links (or heaven forbid, not going to “personal interest sites” of any kind while at work, doing work, or using work equipment)” but you are 100% right to suggest a more direct convo.

    5. Smithy*

      If the chat function is something like Microsoft Teams – then it could would have been easy enough to access it from her personal phone or computer.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, I have Slack, GChat, and Skype on my personal phone, all installed solely because of work. It’s not inconceivable, especially since she’s on vacation, that she simply hit the wrong app. For all we know, she was trying to send that link to her husband for a little vacation fun.

    6. literal desk fan*

      Yes, agree!! Actually at my company, I think it is automatically a firing offense to use company property to watch porn. But I think a conversation is in order, even if it starts with, “I’m not saying this is what happened, but if you WERE watching porn on your company-issued computer…”

    7. Observer*

      Well, she posted this while on vacation. So, I’m assuming that she wasn’t posting from a company owned device.

      But, yeah, if it WERE a company device at work? It’s be having a cow right now. I’d also want to know how our filters failed so drastically.

    8. mark132*

      I was wondering that as well. Watching porn on work computers is a big deal. It could get someone fired.

  13. PopJunkie42*

    I was just thinking about this sort of thing the other day. It’s actually pretty awesome that their boss is so supportive and wants it all to blow over!

    My friend told me a horror story once about an IT tech at a venue who accidentally pulled up some self-made porn…in front of an auditorium full of conference attendees. She just remembers his scream of “Noooooooooooo!” from the back of the room. I would have quit, changed my name, moved cities…

    1. Deborah*

      Yeah, it’s harder to come up with an excuse that it has nothing to do with you, when you’re in the video.

    2. GeekBoi*

      haha, I once inadvertently included a picture of my GF at the time ( fully clothed, but in bondage “damsel in distress” roleplay, tied up and gagged) in a Powerpoint presentation for the class I was teaching!

    3. Kiwiii*

      I once opened explicit fanfiction while screensharing with a coworker. Happens to the best of us.

    4. Quill*

      Oh holy shit.

      Look, I am a NINJA about closing less explicit fanfiction tabs when people walk past my personal computer, I wouldn’t have been able to resign prior to expiring from embarassment. I’d have keeled over on stage.

    5. Katniss Evergreen*

      OMG I had to cover my mouth to stifle laughter. This is TERRIBLE! I would rather melt into a puddle on the floor in shame and evaporate than deal with the fallout of this.

    6. Tinker*

      In grad school I worked on a project related to computer vision on mobile devices, so I had pictures on my phone that were relevant to aspects of the project. It was also my personal phone and had personal pictures on it that I did not intend to process for object recognition.

      Let’s say that I mayyyyyy have perhaps once emitted a small scream and went diving for my phone.

    7. Ladybugger*

      Yeah I once texted my client “suck my dick, X Bank!” – which was meant to go to my boyfriend because I’d just spent hours on the phone with customer service. OOPS. She was cool about it, I was happily at the gym where I could run off my anxiety.

    8. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

      …lived in a cave, on an undiscovered island, on an undiscovered planet, in an uncharted galaxy.

    9. Keymaster of Gozer*

      We had a new graduate employee in engineering who’d managed to use a company camera to film himself doing errr…interesting things at home, then loaded it onto his company laptop then brought it into work and ran the laptop backup tool.

      Result was a real hilarious moment in IT when we found hundreds of megs of self-filmed naughty stuff being transferred onto the local file server. Not so funny when the server ran out of space..

  14. Uldi*

    I think it needs to be pointed out that it is entirely possible that this employee is interested in that particular kink, and any attempt to offer more innocent reasons could backfire and come across as, “I know you can’t possibly be this freaky and gross.”

    Right now, they are almost certainly hyper-sensitive, so that needs to be kept in mind as well. I’d recommend talking to HR and making it clear it wasn’t intentional, then relying that back to the employee along with reassurances that things will be fine.

    1. Anonapots*

      I honestly think this is the least of anyone’s concerns at this point. It’s not the OP’s job to make the employee feel okay about her kink; it’s the OP’s job to mitigate the damage and make the employee feel okay with coming back after what is an embarrassing mishap and would still be embarrassing even if there weren’t any kinks involved.

      1. Uldi*

        That wasn’t what I was suggesting. OP wants to retain this employee, but the employee is in panic-mode right now. Any reassurances or offers of innocent alternatives could backfire and do the exact opposite of what the OP wants to accomplish, and that needs to be considered.

      2. Dragoning*

        I think Uldi’s point is that, on the chance the employee IS into it, suggesting that it’s gross to the employee when suggesting excuses for what happened, will embarrass the employee all the more and make them want to stay further away.

        1. Yvonne*

          Thing is, in her place I would probably already know people might think it’s gross (that would be true even if it was the most vanilla porn imaginable) so I would cling all the harder to the polite fiction that it could have been one of those other things.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I don’t think anyone has suggested what ever the kink was is it was gross. I think OP mentioned that is was a more niche kink to give background why the employee might be freaking out as much as they are. Granted if it were me I would be having the same reaction from inadvertently sharing any kind of porn. I think even if it was just very vanilla softcore porn the advice to offer possible alternative suggestions would be the same. The suggestions for alternatives are not because she shared a kink, but because she shared porn.

    2. CynicallySweet*

      I haven’t seen any kind of comments about LWs personal thoughts on the kink itself. And blaming it on spam or phising isn’t saying that “you couldn’t possibly be into that”. It’s saying “this isn’t appropriate for work”, which it doesn’ matter the kind of porn is true in 99% of industries

  15. MerelyMe*

    In a previous job, I had to arrange a lot of conference calls because we had people from all over the country serving on ad hoc committees. We started to let the committee chairs’ administrators set up the calls instead…until the one time when AT&T gave the admin the number for a phone sex line instead of a conference call line. The poor woman was mortified, but it truly wasn’t her fault. After that we got our own dedicated conference call line and used that for everything.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I used to work with verifying health insurance benefits, back before companies had online portals for this, so I had to call them. At least a couple of times a month I would mis-dial a toll free number and get a sex line, or if I got lucky, a telemarketing line for cruises. The first time I accidentally got a sex line I ran to my team lead to tell her, thinking I could get in trouble, and she just laughed and said it happens all the time.

      What this tells me is that there are a staggering number of sex lines out there.

      1. mark132*

        I remember watching late night TV when I was in college and they would have ads for the 1-800-sex lines, and being curious, then they mentioned something like $5/min to chat, and my interest completely went away.

  16. Czhorat*

    This shows the value of repentance; if the employee had gotten defensive or said it was no big deal, they might get fired. That they are ready to quit makes treatment MUCH more lenient.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah – speaking as someone who actually has resigned from a job and consequently the entire field I’d gone to school for (for something nonsexual and far less salacious!) I see this as a more honorable choice.

    2. OhNo*

      True! There’s benefit to acknowledging a mistake and showing that you take it seriously. I imagine this might have gone differently if she was a less conscientious employee overall, or if she tried to pretend like it was no big deal.

      1. Czhorat*

        And offering to resign is accepting what is likely the worst possible consequence – it is going farther than simply acknowledging that it was wrong, but acknowledging and accepting loss of their job as a result.

    3. hbc*

      My boss (male, ~50) once sent me (female, 28) the 2 Girls 1 Cup video. It was a stupid mixup where I had a reputation for being unfazed by surprising things and he must’ve seen something about the reaction videos. He didn’t vet the link before he sent it.

      Dude broke a land-speed record getting to my desk when he realized the error. I’ll never know the details because we both pretended it never happened afterwards, but his abject horror and desperate apologies made it clear that this wasn’t some creeper move.

        1. hbc*

          Nope, it was actually the next day, though luckily I clicked the link at home and didn’t have to explain anything to cube neighbors or IT. I remember starting to watch and then thinking, “I…don’t think this is what he meant to send me.”

  17. Rectilinear Propagation*

    There was a user on Stack Overflow once who was posting what they claimed were links to other answers but turned out to be porn. (The account got destroyed very quickly but it wasn’t obvious that the link was bad before that happened.)

    She could very well have thought she was sending a link to something normal if she copied it instead of opening it first.

    1. Grace*

      Someone at my work, before I started, jokingly posted a dot com link that was related to something that had been discussed immediately before. (Think people talking about ducks and then this person typing “ducks(.)com” in response.)

      Except it was a real website.

      And it was a porn site.

      Obviously that isn’t the case here, if it’s a link to a full video, but this is a person who has successfully come back from being the person who posted a niche fetish porn website in an all-company chat by dint of being very good at their job, even if it is still legendary and a cautionary tale as to why you should never post websites you haven’t checked.

      1. (insert name here)*

        I have not once, but twice tried to buy sporting goods on my lunch break not from d*ckssportinggoods dot com, but directly from d*cks dot com. Fortunately I caught myself before hitting enter. Pretty sure they didn’t have the baseball hats and sports bras that I was looking for.

        Yes, it is ok to do online shopping on my lunch break at my current job.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      My husband’s team slack channel uses gifs on a regular basis and he joked that everyone (including the boss) has had the situation where the work appropriate gif goes into a NSFW direction a few seconds beyond where they previewed it.

  18. coffeeandpearls*

    Oh noooooo! I feel so bad for her. Would it be terrible to lie to anyone who asks directly about it (not HR, but office gossips)? Something along the lines of “It was a glitch from her account, everything is secure now so no worries. In fact, could you discourage people from talking about it? Understandably, Jane is worried about people making unwarranted judgments about her, and we want to make sure she feels that we still hold her in high regard.”.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you so, so much for answering my question!! I just texted her your suggestion, almost verbatim.

      I think that idea – of pushing other possibilities into her brain – will be really important. Regardless of what the truth is, thankfully other plausible explanations EXIST, which our coworkers will probably be more than happy to latch on to. As long as she confidently sticks to it, I think everyone will follow her lead.

      Also, as I expected, the situation has already died down. I’m not sure people will forget anytime soon, per se, but we’ve all moved on to other topics of conversation. I’ll do what I can on my part to keep the situation as low-key as possible. (And convince her that everything is really fine!!)

      Thanks again for everyone’s comments and experiences! It’s really helpful for me, I think it’s giving me a better sense of what she might be feeling right now.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Whoops, I meant to comment that to the main post (directed to Alison).

        Your script is really helpful too. I’m not sure if I’ll say it in such a pointed way, but I will still encourage people to think highly of her.

    2. MarsJenkar*

      In my case, that might backfire a bit because, as I’ve said elsewhere, I value my integrity very strongly (even over my reputation in other things), and I would not appreciate someone lying on my behalf as others might–especially if the statement contained an actual falsehood, and *especially* if it were expected (or implied) that I perpetuate the lie (which I absolutely *cannot* do). If I were the employee and I found out that you’d lied on my behalf in this manner, I’d probably say something like “I can see why you did it, but I really don’t like it when people lie on my behalf, no matter how well-intended it is. I’d appreciate it if you retracted that statement and stated that [non-deceptive statement] instead.”

      If you didn’t do as I requested, then nothing you would do from that point on would stop me from leaving because I would feel I could no longer trust you. (Yes, this is a “hill to die on” thing for me, and even if others would think it odd that I do so, I would not feel I had a choice in the matter.)

  19. Dragoning*

    It was meant to go in a different Slack channel full of friends who were daring each other to find the most horrifying thing on the internet. Prize was 500 dollars.

    That’s the story, and the employee should stick to it.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I’m thinking now of Kurt Eichenwald, the (former) NYT reporter who posted a screenshot of something on his laptop … and had multiple tabs of hentai porn open in the background. He claimed that it was because of a family trivia night and he was just “proving” to his wife and kids that hentai was a thing that existed. Literally zero people believed that explanation.

      1. Dragoning*

        I did once have to explain to my father than tentacle porn was a thing, but I certainly did not open tabs to show it to him!

        1. Quill*

          I have played Cards against Humanity with family ONCE and I was certain to not let anyone google anything they didn’t understand

          1. sunny-dee*

            I literally cannot imagine which scenario is worse: 1. That he made up a really lame lie (“no, seriously, it was just game night!”) or 2. if that isn’t a lie and he actually showed internet searches of tentacle porn to his teenage / adult children. Like, that is therapy fodder for YEARS.

          2. Elenna*

            LOL I tried playing Cards against Humanity with my parents in the same *room* once (while they were having a completely separate conversation and paying no attention) and we swiftly gave it up because it was way too awkward.

            1. Quill*

              Oh, I didn’t play with parents, I played with cousins. 2 in college, one about to go, and when my uncle wanted to be dealt in we more or less immediately got pac-man and he quit in disgust.

            2. Blarg*

              We played the evening my friend’s baby was born. While at the hospital. With grandma, mom, dad, new uncle, friends. There was clandestine beer. There are photos of baby’s first card game. Truly a crazy night of sleep deprived brand new parents and the people who love them.

          3. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

            Let’s add “Googling Cards Against Humanity on game night” into the list of possible reasons for the link situation.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Hahahaha, glad I’m not the only person who once had to explain tentacle porn to her family. (It was because of a conversation, not because anyone was actually looking at any….)

          1. Dragoning*

            I made a joke and Dad thought it was too funny because the concept was so ridiculous to him and there was an “oh no” moment.

      2. lol*

        a bunch of us once got an email that a relative had opened a new pinterest account and pinned a bunch of hentai as their first pins. it was an automated message that pinterest sent out if you didn’t opt out of the facebook connection, and this guy was a little too dumb to know he shouldn’t open a public pinterest and pin porn on it. he thought he was signing up for a private thing.

      3. Greg*

        A few years ago, political blogger Josh Marshall meant to tweet a link to some Politico story and instead tweeted a link to lesbian porn (here’s the backstory: https://www.mediaite.com/online/tpms-josh-marshall-tweets-out-porno-link-to-shock-of-political-media-world).

        I always thought Marshall’s response to this was very refreshing: https://twitter.com/joshtpm/status/815295971915694080. He made a mistake, but he had nothing to be ashamed of and he was just going to own it.

  20. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My heart hurts for her so much!

    We have had this kind of stuff happen in much smaller capacity and it’s blown over quickly. It’s actually usually in the form of accessing an explicit site by accident. I had an old manager run to our Presidents office to tell him about how she was farming for accounts and one of the websites was actually explicit. I could hear the laughter from my desk in reaction.

    It’s all about circling the wagons to protect her and to continue to confirm that she did everything right, immediately removing it, acknowledging it with you as an awful incident and that it’s not going to happen again because again, clearly a huge mistake that can happen when you’re using the same device for work as you are with other daily life things.

    It’s so easy with the huge amount of adult sites out there, lots will take over old URLs as well without you knowing it. So a clerical error can result in this too. Wrong extension, etc.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      It’s so easy with the huge amount of adult sites out there, lots will take over old URLs as well without you knowing it. So a clerical error can result in this too. Wrong extension, etc.

      Yes, this happens a lot. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but there was an adult site with the same name as a US government department, but the domain ended in .com instead of .gov. So many people genuinely researching info about the US ended up at the wrong site.

      And adult sites also have deliberate yet popular mispellings of a real word or name in order to get visitors. I once typed in the name of a business and was one letter off, and panicked when the computer/browser sent up a warning. Thankfully, I was on the home computer and no damage was done, but it was a bit of a shock. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to make that mistake.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I have went back to old sites that are now defunct an found they were purchased by an adult site before as well!

        Lots of “Dead” URLs that will get them the traffic works. But excellent point about the common misspellings as well.

      2. Happily Self Employed*

        I put a link to someone’s blog in an answer on Quora a year or two ago.

        Recently, I got a message asking me to fix the link because it was “broken”.

        I checked the link, and it now went to a very NSFW site instead of someone talking about their experiences of discrimination or whatever it had been.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      An old friend had her FB account hacked by an abusive, vindictive ex who couldn’t find her in person. :(

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Argh. I’ve heard about this kind of stuff before as well.

          That’s the revenge stuff that is illegal in some places as well. The people who hack and then send this stuff out to relatives, notably siblings and parents.

  21. Drema*

    Allison, you’re absolutely right. When computers were “new” to our campus, the son of a very distinguished professor hacked his work account and posted a porn site, which he somehow then sent to basically everyone on campus. Said professor nearly died of embarrassment; IT immediately investigated and discovered it was from Son’s computer. Son was grounded pretty much forever and his computer access from home was cut off by mom and dad. This stuff happens. Fuggettaboutit.

  22. Gazebo Slayer*

    I’m wondering what the LW should do if other employees complain about this incident as harassment, though. Sure it was probably accidental, but people do sometimes do things like this with creepy intentions and fall back on plausible deniability. (Though it would be oddly brazen to do that to a chat this big – if it had just been sent to one or two people, I’d be a lot more inclined to think it actually was deliberate.)

    1. Dragoning*

      Depending on the HR policy, one harassing incident might not need to be a firing offense? I don’t know. A lot of the time they’ll want more than one strike and some kind of sustained harassment to take more action than a talking-to, which this employee has sort of had.

    2. fposte*

      A single isolated incidence has to be severe to constitute sexual harassment from a legal standpoint, and this really, really isn’t. The response would be roughly “The offending material was posted by accident and was removed. Management has taken appropriate action. If there are instances of concern other than that one, please let us know.”

      1. Tuckerman*

        But in this instance, has management taken appropriate action? It sounds like the resolution is telling the employee, “I know you didn’t mean to do that.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          When you know an excellent employee genuinely didn’t mean a mistake and there’s no indication it will be repeated in the future (which is the really key part), you don’t always need to take more action than that (and in fact doing so can be weirdly heavy-handed and off-putting).

          1. Tuckerman*

            Fair enough. I work in higher ed so I think I’m a bit laser focused on how this might be a Title IX issue. But I realize that doesn’t apply to most work environments.

        2. Kiki*

          I know this isn’t generally a management strategy, but sometimes the appropriate action is that what transpired is so embarrassing and all parties are aware of that so it doesn’t need to be specifically addressed. Like farting in a meeting: if all parties are clearly embarrassed, management doesn’t need to talk about it. If it seems like the employee doesn’t know that’s a thing that isn’t done, you’d bring it up.

          1. Dragoning*

            Well, now I’m curious–is farting in a meeting something that needs to be addressed if people aren’t embarrassed?

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A one off time is not fireable unless it’s egregious [touching/groping comes to mind], what you say is “we’re aware of the incident and we’ve addressed it so it doesn’t happen again. Your concerns are valid and we have fully investigated it and found it to be an accident at this level.”

      It has to be a pattern in most instances to be deemed harassment. One off stuff is just that, one off. But if they have a pattern of other behaviors that could be attributed to that, then it’s more of an actual case.

      1. Liz T*

        Exactly. And it was an accident!

        If a coworker slipped and fell, instinctively reached for me to steady themselves, and accidentally grabbed a boob–that would be awful and mortifying for both of us, but I wouldn’t want or expect my company to take any action about it, not if this was completely out of the norm.

    4. Seacalliope*

      I’m actually more curious about what to do if other employees legitimately feel harassed or upset by the posting. It was accidental, but that doesn’t actually invalidate their reactions and I think it’s pretty disingenuous to assume that everyone will take the same stance as the manager does here — in fact, that they are trying so hard to push this aside might make it worse and feel like the work environment isn’t a good place to come about sexual harassment concerns.

      Basically, I think this actually requires more delicate handling because it was a mistake and it’s not something that should be shoved as if it never happened. It’s not the same situation as one-on-one where the person emailed or linked can brush it off.

      1. fposte*

        “Felt harassed” is a tricky thing, though–they may validly react but still not be entitled to management’s taking additional action.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It’s extra tricky because I’ve always been told harassment isn’t about intent, it’s about effect. So “felt harassed” does seem to be the threshold? However, in a case like this if the company were reasonably convinced this was indeed a one-off and very unlikely to happen again, the handling as Alison recommended could constitute sufficiently dealing with it, rather than denying it being harassment in the first place. Although I noticed the letter did literally say “it’s not harassment”, so OP should probably steer clear of that verbiage moving forward, as it may make them seem as though they do not understand the intent vs effect nuance. That would undermine her point of having “dealt with it” to anyone who did feel harassed.

          1. Jcarnall*

            Example, with fictitious names of course:

            Bill likes to tell filthy jokes which he thinks are hilarious and I think are horrible. I tell Bill “I hate those jokes, stop telling them.” Bill’s reaction is “Everyone else thinks those jokes are hilarious, I have always told these jokes, I’m not harassing her when I tell those jokes, I don’t even care if she’s there or not!” Bill’s intent may not be harassment, but the effect is harassment, since he’s been told something bothers me and he just keeps doing it.

            Andy always leans on chairs when he’s in a room for more than five minutes. Andy prefers to lean on occupied chairs. If the occupant is short, Andy can literally be leaning right over the person sitting in the chair. Andy is barely aware he’s doing this, always stops when he’s asked, but keeps reflexively leaning on chairs unless he is asked to stop, Is Andy harassing the people he leans over? No, not only because his intent is not harassment, but because he does stop when asked – he just can’t seem to remember to keep the behaviour stopped.

            Colin came out of the toilets one day and in front of everyone in the office he had a slow-motion accident with his trousers as the belt detached from itself and the zip came undone and Colin never noticed until uncharitable giggles and gasps notified him that everyone in the office could see a weird cage-like contraption locked around his crotch area in lieu of undies. Colin flashed everyone when he bent over to grab his trousers and pull them up again and run back inside the toilets to try to cover his privacy. Is this harassment? No, it is a dreadful embarrassing accident that everyone in the office must now pretend not to have noticed and never speak of again to Colin. Anyone who complains that they feel harassed by Colin flashing his locked gear is a troublemaker: Colin never intended to expose that and feels dreadful that he did.

            (But if it turns out that Colin did it deliberately because he likes the giggles and gasps, that’s harassment.)

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, I feel this is one more reason LW should just let this employee resign. It really is best for all parties – coworkers and company as well as the employee herself.

        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          What? No. That makes no sense at all. What is the benefit to the company of losing a stellar employee over a silly mistake? What is the benefit to the employee?

          Hell, what is the benefit to the coworkers? If I worked at that company, and saw a high-performing colleague lose their job over something like this, my reaction would *not* be approval of how management was handling the situation. It would be, “Whoa, this company fires you for one silly mistake. This is not a place I want to work. Better polish that resume.”

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            The company doesn’t have to deal with potential legal or culture problems, and the poor employee never has to face her coworkers again after this, and nobody else has to be uncomfortable around her if that’s how they’d feel. I know it sucks, but this is Bad.

            1. Coder von Frankenstein*

              What legal problems? As others have pointed out, a single incident has to be much worse than this to qualify as harassment. I’m not sure what “culture problems” would mean here.

              As for the employee having to face her coworkers–it’s up to her to decide if that is bad enough to justify leaving. It isn’t like the manager can force her to stay. But that decision should not be made in the heat of panic, and I see no reason why the manager should push her to leave.

              All that leaves is “other people might feel uncomfortable around her,” which is not generally a good reason to kick your employees to the curb. As I said, I would feel *much* more uncomfortable seeing a good colleague forced out over a thing like this. It would seriously shake my trust in my employer.

            2. Blueberry*

              I don’t see why this should be considered that Bad unless porn, in and of itself, is unconscionable.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                I don’t think porn is unconscionable, but porn on a work chat is definitely very inappropriate and I’d expect people not to believe it was accidental.

                Maybe I’m being overly swayed by what my own reaction would be if this happened to me, though. I would resign immediately without question, and I can’t think of anything my boss could say or do that would dissuade me. I simply would be unable to bear that kind of public humiliation, regardless of any career consequences.

                1. Blueberry*

                  Interesting. Whereas if the link appeared and vanished quickly, I absolutely would believe it was some kind of accident. It would depend on context.

                  I guess I ultimately wouldn’t see this worth starving to death over, as it were. How could one possibly get another job with this explanation for quitting?

            3. Observer*

              There are simply no legal problems here. The idea that someone could sue over harassment is silly, and acting as though this is a realistic fear is far more toxic and MUCH worse management that ignoring it.

              Sure, anyone can sue for anything. But you simply cannot run a business trying to prevent every frivolous law suit. It costs way too much and it doesn’t even work. So, you work on avoiding the law suits that could go to court and cost you a lot or create great reputational risk. This isn’t that.

            4. Snarflepants*

              I must respectfully disagree with you. It doesn’t look like there are potential legal or cultural problems here. Facing coworkers after an embarrassing accident is hard. However, quitting a job would probably serve to make the event more memorable in the minds of coworkers. The departed employee would probably still have to face her coworkers somehow anyway. The Story of Quitting may follow her around the industry. Or she could encounter the coworkers again at another job.

        2. Blueberry*

          I was halfway through writing a disagreement, accidentally lost it, and saw that Coder von Frankenstein had written most of what I thought better than I would have. I don’t think this mistake is the kind of directed intense maltreatment that warrants a “one strike and you’re out” reaction, and I agree with CvonF that seeing a coworker vanish after one such mistake would give me the impression the company was extremely inflexible and unforgiving.

      3. Observer*

        What fposte says.

        To be honest, I’d probably be pretty grossed out and possibly a bit upset. But calling this harassment is not really a valid response unless there is a pattern of behavior. I *might* reach out to HR to make sure that they are aware of it and they genuinely think it’s a one off error. But probably not even that. Because life happens and sometimes things happen that are uncomfortable.

      4. Blueberry*

        I don’t think a one-off message would be easier to brush off, actually. If someone emailed me personally with a link to porn, and didn’t immediately apologize and say it was a mistake, I would feel that it was a directed message towards me. Someone putting a link accidentally into a large chat and then deleting it wouldn’t have the same personalized effect. I think the company can take someone’s report of emotional damage seriously without necessarily sacrificing this employee.

      5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The thing is, this needs to be a mark against the employee that way it’s written down so if there’s a pattern that evolves, they are terminated for it. Since you should document each thing that could be construed as harassment [which requires more than one incident to be legally an issue]

        I would have been grossed out most likely, I’m a painfully private person when it comes to intimacy related things. But would I feel harassed or victimized? No, I’d just feel grossed out…

      6. XX*

        Strongly agree that if management tried to brush off any concerns too strongly, I’d definitely feel like this wasn’t a safe workplace to raise sexual harassment concerns and I’d be job-searching. OP says this was posted in a large group chat and that many/most employees didn’t know porn-poster prior to this. I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry and I know old boys clubs exist in many industries. If I were a new employee, and it seemed acceptable for someone to post porn in a work chat and still have management support and defend them, and HR actively shuts down anyone with concerns regarding this and then instead threatens employees who do express they have a problem with this (ex- what some commenters have been saying about them being too judgmental or closed-minded), I’d be very concerned about cultural fit and whether sexual harassment concerns are taken seriously by HR.

      7. Betty*

        I’d be horrified and upset if I clicked on something like this and watched even the few seconds it would take me to gasp and exit the window. However, I would absolutely interpret it as an accident if it was removed so quickly and posted by an otherwise professional and non-creepy person. As an employee on that channel, I would want to hear something like “I’m sorry an inappropriate link made it onto the channel earlier. We’ve looked into it and it was an accident/glitch/[insert vague semi-excuse here] and we are sure it won’t happen again. However, do please make us aware of any similar problems in the future.” It lets me know that I don’t need to do anything to ensure that The Powers That Be are aware of it, they did something about it, it’s all fine, they take this stuff seriously. Jane’s continued employment would signal to me that it probably was an accident/glitch/whatever. If she left, I would be much more concerned that either she was fired for an accident or she was a secret serial porn-wielding harrasser who had finally taken it too far.

        I wonder what the LW should do if she finds out people have been asking Jane directly about it, though.

    5. Observer*

      It’s a one off and it went down pretty much immediately.

      Anyone who is out for blood over this is someone I’d be watching carefully.

      Now, if this kind of mistake happened multiple times or the user had not taken it down immediately, I would be responding very differently. Because then, even if it were a genuine mistake, the person should have taken steps to avoid making that mistake again / should have taken immediate action.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        There is absolutely no reason in this case she needs to resign. Mistakes happen. People need to be humane and acknowledge everyone makes mistakes. This is a good employee who fixed the mistake ASAP and apologized.
        I really doubt the majority of other employees would count this as harassment – it was not directed at a specific person, it is not part of a pattern, she didn’t try to trick folks into clicking on it, and it was corrected ASAP.
        Really, if you clicked on a link posted in a general Slack channel it was *your choice* to follow the link. If an employee complains they “felt harassed” by an obvious mistake I would wonder if they were emotionally mature enough to deal with daily life.

  23. Observer*

    While I TOTALLY agree with the approach to HR and anyone who brings it up, the excuse making could be a huge mistake. It depends on the specifics of how the group is set up and how people get access to it. But in a lot of common scenarios, this would very much look like “my dog at my homework.”

    1. Nobody Here by That Name*

      Agreed. If you need to lie, lie SMALL. Or just stick to a quick version of the truth. “It was a mistake, it’s been handled.”

  24. Campfire Raccoon*

    There was 69 comments when I clicked on this.

    ((hugs to Jane)) and ((hugs to OP))

    This is so awkward and I feel for you both.

      1. Jennifer*

        She’s mortified and not likely to get over it. This is the stuff of legend and a story that will be repeated again and again by people outside of work, even if it appears to have blown over at work.

        Some of her coworkers are mortified and may not be able to look at her the same. I might be among that number if I worked there, whether it’s politically correct to say or not. Some might actually have been really offended or felt harassed.

        I’m usually on the side of mistakes happen, let people move on, but I think this is pretty insurmountable. I think she’d be better off starting anew elsewhere. OP can give her a great recommendation.

        1. Louise*

          Yeah, I don’t think she should *have* to leave at all, but honestly if I was her, I would probably choose to leave with a good reference from my manager than have to deal with all of this. I wonder if it would be worth the manager adding, “Of course if you do choose to leave, you’ll have an excellent reference from me.”

          1. fposte*

            I absolutely think it’s a legitimate choice she may wish to make. I do think it would be better for both sides if she slunk away quietly after a few weeks, though, rather than just bailing and not coming back from PTO.

            1. Annony*

              Yeah. Ideally she would come back and then decide if she can shrug this off or not. The people she works with know her and may be able to ignore this and the people who don’t know her might not even connect her with the video.

              1. CynicallySweet*

                Especially because if she just didn’t come back after that happened it would become a LARGE part of the narrative

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I agree. I don’t think that there is any amount of reassurance that would overcome my embarrassment and I think it would be worse if my boss bent over backwards like this.

          1. Jennifer*

            Yes, the pity from my boss would make it worse. Even if she doesn’t intend it as pity that’s how I would feel. I would feel that she had to bend over backwards to help me keep my job because I screwed up in an epic way.

            For me, it’s easier when people just say, “Yep, you messed up. It’s not the end of the world but it was a big mistake. Let’s figure out next steps,” instead of telling me it’s not that bad. It’s bad.

            1. Marthooh*

              Sure it’s bad, but “next steps” doesn’t have to be resigning. That’s the point OP wants to make.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Leaving because of this would actually make it a bigger deal and a more frequently told story. “My coworker sent porn to a group chat and then never came back to work” is a far bigger thing.

          1. Jennifer*

            I have to disagree. Several people have shared stories about people who did this and resigned or were fired the same day. That’s what people normally expect to happen after things like this.

            Either way, the story is big and is getting repeated many, many times. If she stays she’s That Person With the Weird Kink – Can You Believe She Still Works Here? At least if she gets a new job she can start over with people who don’t know that history, so it’s better for her at least in the long run. Just my opinion.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Or she becomes ‘that person whose phone got hacked *hard* on vacation’.

              I guess I’m super weird on this site, hacking / virus is my assumption about things like this. I’ve seen a coworker and a couple of family members with tech viruses that did embarrassing things, and have not yet seen ‘accidental porno’ that wasn’t virus-related.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                I once received a very polite email from the AVP of my company’s corporate office telling me that she received an email from my (old, rarely used) Yahoo account with a link asking her to click it. Apparently, this happened during their big breach a few years back. I have no idea what the link led to, wouldn’t be surprised if it was porn, but OMG I was so embarrassed. What if it was porn and my AVP saw it?! What if the hackers tried to drain her bank account?! Who still uses Yahoo in 2015-16?!

                It was all too much, lol.

                1. Spencer Hastings*

                  When I was in grad school, I learned that my email was being spoofed — someone set their display name as “spencerhastings[at]prestigiousuniversity[dot]edu”, while if you opened the email, you could see that it was actually sent from “somethingorother[at]sketchyrussiandomain[dot]com”. I originally found out because one of these spoofed emails was sent to me. I contacted IT, who of course told me there was nothing I could do — any outside person could set their display name to anything they wanted, and they hadn’t hacked my actual email. They said this was not unheard of — pretending to be someone from a prestigious university was apparently a known strategy for people selling Viagra or whatever, and our emails were listed publicly on department websites. Anyway, I was mortified. But it didn’t last long.

              2. CynicallySweet*

                Ur not super weird, in reading thru the comments most ppl r saying they would’ve assumed some kind of virus thing

            2. Delphine*

              If my exceptional, hard-working, well-liked coworker posted porn onto our Slack channel and never came back, I’d be astonished. I would always believe that the post was an accident. And I don’t think I’d ever repeat the story as gossip.

              Getting a new job isn’t like pulling a number out of a hat. This is about her livelihood. If there’s any chance that she doesn’t want to resign and would be able to continue working, she should do that.

            3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              “That’s what people normally expect to happen after things like this. ”

              I’m not sure what’s normal, but I sure wouldn’t expect that. I’d think the person leaving was a possibility, but I wouldn’t expect it.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t know about that. Insurmountable would depend very much on the rest of the office being immature twits who would never let it go. While it’s certainly possible that some twits work there, it’s also possible that the rest of her coworkers are good people who understand that there are too many ways it could happen by accident. Spam, pop-up ads, misdirected link due to malware (especially if she’s using hotel wi-fi on vacation), landing on a defunct website domain that’s been snapped up by a porn company, etc. etc.

          I think the good people would be more sympathetic than anything. There have been numerous posts in this thread about how easily it happens (and how many commenters have had it happen to them).

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, on reflection I really think that’s the best choice for her and everyone else. Everyone there will always think of her as Weird Kinky Porn Poster. In my experience people don’t forget this sort of thing, and it becomes the stuff of company lore known even to people who weren’t there at the time. It was common knowledge at a former employer of mine that one of the execs had been caught watching porn at work; his father was the founder, so he didn’t get fired, but it was one of the reasons everyone laughed at him behind his back.

      In fact, this may well be the end of her career in this field. Maybe my experience as someone who resigned from a job, a field, and eventually “Real Jobs” in general because of my own screwups is coloring my perspective here, but sadly I think there are things you usually can’t come back from. (I am now exclusively working gig-economy jobs that don’t ask too many questions about my past; anything with a real job application or requiring a resume or references is straight out.)

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, like on The Office Ryan was always “Fire Guy,” even after he got promoted to VP.

        “He never made a sale and he started a fire trying to make a cheesy pita.”

        This is Fire Guy x 10,000.

      2. Jennifer*

        Of course, if I didn’t have anything lined up and no savings, I might have to suck it up for a bit if my boss was wiling to let me come back. But I’d be job hunting with a fury. Possibly out of state. This is the kind of thing that can follow you to other jobs too.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Actually job searching (and interviewing) with this hanging over you requires a far stronger person than I am. As far as I am concerned this would rule out anything but desperate “warm body” positions, gig platforms, selling stuff on eBay and Amazon, etc.

          1. emuroo*

            I’m sorry, but this seems so weird to me? The idea that because of this completely accidental thing that happened one time and was corrected quickly she should what? Never try to work in her field again? Or actually give up on ever having a well paying/satisfying job of any kind ever again?

      3. hbc*

        If I’ve got eight years with coworker Jane, she doesn’t become Weird Kinky Porn Poster. It’s what I’m thinking of on Porn Posting day, sure, and the day she comes back from vacation, and when her voice is shaking the next time she talks about the budget because she knows I’m still thinking about it. But then I have more interactions with her that don’t involve porn, and it becomes that one weird thing that Jane did in a decade of her being normal. She is Jane from accounting, Jane who reviewed my spreadsheet, Jane who just hit the copier like The Fonz and got it working again, Jane who always wears that plaid shirt on Fridays.

        Leaving is probably the only thing that makes her Porn Poster forever.

      4. Alienor*

        I don’t know if she needs to resign, but it’s pretty likely that people who were there for it will always remember. I’ve worked with several people who were caught with porn/having affairs with coworkers/etc, and if they’re still colleagues I can work with them fine, but I do still remember that they’re Porn/Affair Guy or Gal. And if they left, it’s “oh yeah, Joe, he was the one who was developing and managing porn sites as a side gig on his work laptop.”

    2. Autumnheart*

      I would not only let her resign, I would suggest that it’d be a good idea.

      a) Using porn on the company laptop, where does someone work where this isn’t a fireable offense
      b) Posting it to a company-wide communications channel

      I mean really, if this were a dude, would we be thinking, “Oh, poor Jim, how embarrassing for him?” or would we be thinking, “You’re too dumb to live if you haven’t figured out, by 2020, that looking at porn on your work laptop is a no-no”?

      1. Autumnheart*

        And c) leaving your laptop where your cheeky nephew can post things to the company-wide communications channel while your back is turned…how is this not, also, a serious indication of someone who leaves their confidential work property unsecured?

        I can’t think of a workplace where this wouldn’t get someone SERIOUSLY in the doghouse, if not fired outright.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          On a first offense, though? OP says this is an otherwise excellent employee, she was on vacation (and therefore not necessarily using a work computer) and that she was mortified and immediately deleted the post. Would you go straight to firing under those circumstances?

          I think I *might* have IT do a discreet look through her internet history just to be sure. And if it turns out that she has definitely been watching porn on a company computer, it would be a different conversation. But given everything else the OP has said about her, I would be more inclined to treat it as an honest mistake.

          1. Jennifer*

            I know you weren’t asking me but I wouldn’t fire her unless she’d violated some kind of zero tolerance policy – depends on company rules and HR would have to weigh in. I know she didn’t use company property but it was a company-run site that 200 people have access to. That’s a pretty big deal.

            But if she wanted to resign I wouldn’t invest a lot of energy in convincing her to stay. She didn’t even want to come back to the building to return her laptop. That’s how mortified she is. I’d just try to assure her that I knew it was a mistake and didn’t think any less of her, but understood her decision.

        1. Autumnheart*

          How would it not still apply for a personal phone either?

          Say a company has a BYOD policy. Mine does, but in order to use things like VPN, access email and stuff, it is a requirement that I have PIN access set up on my phone and to log in using a soft token. It isn’t just something where a person can pick up my phone and post things for the lulz.

          If Mischievous Relative can log in and post porn to someone’s company communications, that is an indication of a serious breach. Obviously the company doesn’t have to follow my advice or anything but it’s lucky that this was a nephew posting a porn URL and not someone uploading malware onto an internal system.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            Let’s not nitpick this. This is about how to help this poor employee, not trying to figure out what her company’s IT security policies should be. I’ve worked places that are pretty strict, places that thought they were strict but weren’t (because TPTB were clueless), and places that didn’t even realize they needed a policy for this.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Yes, and my opinion is that this poor employee should be allowed to resign as quickly as possible. Give her severance and a glowing recommendation if she’s such a great worker.

              But as long as she’s at that company, she’s going to be The Employee Who Sent Super Fetish Porn To The Entire Company. She could cure cancer and then she will be TEWSSFPTTEC who cured cancer.

              Get rid of her.

              1. Little My*

                Clearly that’s how she would be perceived by *you*. But there is ample evidence from other posters on this thread that it’s not at all how she would be perceived by *them*. I’m among their number, not yours. You don’t have a handle on how EVERYONE feels about things and every workplace is different. I’m not sure why you think your stance on this is The Way Things Are despite so much evidence to the contrary, including from the OP herself, who is at pains to let her employee know this isn’t how people will be reacting.

          2. Delphine*

            There is no mischevious relative…the employee was on her own personal phone and accidentally posted a link in the group chat. It’s not a security issue. It’s not a harassment issue. It was an unfortunate accident.

          3. Observer*

            That’s just not true.

            For one thing, a virus IS a possibility. For another, even with a pin, other people in the household could figure it out and / or someone could have picked it up before the screen lock kicked in.

            One of the problems with BYOD policies is that you CANNOT enforce the same level of security on people’s personal phones as you can on company owned devices. And even on company owned devices it’s almost impossible to guarantee that no one other than the person it was issued to will ever get their hands on it. (Multiple instances are a different story.)

            Also “company communications” can be so many things that are not necessarily tied to company security, such as whatsApp, slack or even Office 365.

            Then there is a the possibility of some sort of malware.

            Lastly, say it was NOT a gremlin or someone who grabbed her phone and thought they were being HILARIOUS. Say it was the employee herself who accidentally posted to this group instead of a different group. What then? A zero tolerance policy that extends to people’s use of their personal devices on their own time is a terrible policy. The fact that she made a mistake and accidentally posted something to a work group for a few minutes doesn’t make that less of an over-reach.

          4. kt*

            You’re making way too many assumptions here & justifying something very harsh as a result. At my company we can use Slack from our phones or any other device, we don’t need VPN to access Slack, all you need is a username and password and then you’re logged in for a long time. It’s trivial for someone to be able to post to Slack. My husband would be able to open my laptop right now and post to some of my Slack channels without entering a single password or PIN. That’s why I don’t have work Slack on my computer, but I certainly have Slack for other groups.

            Moreover, someone putting a link on Slack is not at all the same as uploading malware onto an internal system.

            Your comments just show a real lack of experience with these technologies across companies.

        1. Delphine*

          You can’t know that. And it’s not a reason to treat this specific case more aggressively for no reason.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s not true at all. Many men are given warnings after warning about their poor choices, including things like getting caught watching adult entertainment.

          Many executives and below still go to frigging strip clubs ffs and pay with corporate funds.

            1. SimplyTheBest*

              Feel free to speak for yourself, but as I would feel just as empathetic for a man in this predicament you can quit speaking for me

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Personally I’d treat it the same. I’ve worked with people, male and female, who’ve made an honest error like that and while we joke about it I’ve never suggested that they leave.

          If it happened again then all bets are off though.

        4. Elsajeni*

          Given the exact same circumstances, including that he quickly deleted the mis-sent link and proactively called his manager distraught and offering to resign? Obviously none of us can actually know, but I think Alison’s advice and the overall drift of the comments here would be the same: this was an obvious mistake, there are possible innocent explanations that might help him save face or feel less mortified, good luck keeping your excellent employee who made a one-time super-embarrassing copy/paste error.

      2. Daffy Duck*

        But it wasn’t her work laptop. It was her personal phone, she was on vacation, and it mistakenly posted to the company Slack. This is so not worth resigning over.
        If your first thought about a person is the one embarrassing mistake they made in years of being a good coworker…well, I feel pretty sorry for you.

        1. Jennifer*

          I think it would be most people’s first thought. It’s human nature. Maybe if you work somewhere where people are very liberal when it comes to this sort of thing it’s no biggie, but in most places it’s just not the kind of thing people forget. It’s nice to think that that’s the kind of world we live in, but it’s not reality.

          1. SimplyTheBest*

            It’s really not. Sure, some people are clueless and cruel, but lots of people are empathetic and kind. There’s not a single person in my office who this would change my opinion of them or make me only think of them as “kinky girl” for the rest of time. And if it is how you would react, quite frankly, I don’t think that says anything good about you.

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        One time? For an otherwise good employee?

        Sure it’s bad, but fireable for one offense in a zero-tolerance way? That’s dumb in many contexts.

        If the OP did it of a work computer, it would be worth IT/HR looking into any patterns of breaking the rules, but for one time firing someone? What a waste of resources.

        1. Jennifer*

          I’m not saying she should be fired. If she wanted to resign, I think that’s completely understandable.

      4. Spencer Hastings*

        As to the question of if this were a dude: my money’s on “more lenient”. That’s how our dumb lizardbrains work, even in a generally enlightened space like this one.

  25. Zennish*

    You might remind her that absolutely no one else will be as horrified or impacted by this as she is. We tend to assume (especially when we’re mortified) that everyone else views our mistakes with as much emotion and weight as we do ourselves, but it just isn’t so. It’s another version of “We wouldn’t worry as much what other people think of us if we realized how seldom they do.”

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Yup, most folks won’t give it much thought at all.
      The folks who would harp on one mistake from an otherwise great coworker…I sure don’t want to be outside-of-work friends with them.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      And if she took it down really quickly, most people probably didn’t even see it. I know I don’t always look at IMs that pop up on my screen right away.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      One time posting a porn link or pic from your own device/system? Meh. Delete it quickly and move on.

      Viruses, hacking, mischievous relatives happen. I’ve seen everything from rick-roll to 2 girls, 1 cup posted on social media, chat, forum and gaming sites. Polite people tag their NSFW stuff, immature people don’t and like to trick the rest of us.

      Firing someone, or having them quit, one-off event is not worth the cost of hiring and training someone new. Laugh about it and move on.

      Even if your employee was the mistress of off-beat kink who had a dungeon in her basement, unless she made a habit of “crossing the streams”, it’s not an issue. Accidents happen, she’s embarrassed about it, close the file and move on.

  26. LV*

    I’m confused by the suggestion that the porn could have been the work of a mischievous young relative. Wouldn’t the employee have told OP that during their phone conversation? It doesn’t make sense to me that she would immediately offer to resign instead of saying “I’m staying at my sister’s this week and little Timmy must have decided to play a joke on me” or something.

    It sounds like very little time passed between when the porn was posted and when the employee deleted the post from the chat, so it seems much more likely that the employee did post it by accident.

    1. Arctic*

      LW isn’t suggesting that is what happened. She’s saying that for all the people on that chat know that was the case.

    2. Anonapots*

      That is exactly what happened. What Alison offered was plausible deniability. The OP can offer that as a winkwink nudgenudge we all know that’s not what happened but we’re going to pretend it is so that you may save face and come back to work.

    3. Louise*

      I don’t think anyone thinks that’s what actually happened — just an example to show that the situation has enough plausible deniability so that she doesn’t anxiety-spiral into thinking that everyone she works with KNOWS she just shared her very explicit kink. Also a good white lie she can use to save face if anyone asks her about it.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Echoing Arctic.

      It’s not about that having been the actual reason, it’s the idea that would run through a colleagues mind seeing it. Instead of assuming malice on Jane’s part, they would say “Wow someone hacked, Jane!” more than “Jane did that, Jane did that!!!! Jane chose to do that!”

    5. Mommy.MD*

      It’s very likely hers. She didn’t deny it or blame anyone. The point is for the optics it could have been someone else, she could have been using relatives computer etc. LW didn’t suggest it. The answer here did. If HR gives her a break, I think no one should speak of it again. It will blow over.

    6. Jennifer*

      That’s such a overused excuse now I think people would see right through it and still laugh behind her back. Whenever some celebrity gets caught doing or saying something wild on social media the go to excuses are “It wasn’t me!” or “I was hacked!” I wouldn’t stay if I were her, if she’s going to stay, better just to own up to it.

      1. Mommy.MD*

        I wouldn’t in this case. I understand your point. The I was hacked excuse. The reason I wouldn’t straight up admit it is it could cost her her job. I’d go with I don’t know how it happened. Other people have access to this computer.

      2. Quill*

        Though it still happens very often, and is far more likely to happen on a group chat or a text thread via someone getting into your unlocked device than, say, via “hacking” your twitter.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The suggestion isn’t that she proclaim that to the office. The suggestion is that she realize that there are lots of other plausible ways it could have happened.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I don’t understand why stopping people from laughing is a goal. We can’t stop people from laughing or from any response really. All management can do is say, “There was a problem. It won’t happen again.” Management has to role model professionalism AND demand professional behaviors from others which includes behaviors of maligning cohorts for what is obviously a horrible error.

  27. GreenDoor*

    I once sent a cleavage shot by text to the pre-programmed number for [Husband’s name] not thinking that my phone could only show so many characters at a time and that I piggy-backed on an ongoing group text that also included my mother in law. Yikes! At least she knows we have a healthy marriage…

    The point is, mistakes like the one in the OP’s letter will happen more and more as more people use modern technology. I think managers will need to determine what to do on a case-by-case basis. In this case, you know this is a solid employee with a great track record who self-reported her mistake and was clearly mortified. Alison’s advice is spot on. I would just add that she might get teased a bit when she returns but if the teasing starts to get mean or cross over into inappropriate commentary/harassment, of course, nip that in the bud.

  28. Mommy.MD*

    I hope it blows over for her. I would have lied my head off. Where I work I’d be fired, accidental or not. They don’t play.

    1. What’s with Today, today?*

      Same, we’d get fired at my job. My boss would likely react like LW. Our owner, not so much.

  29. The Ginger Ginger*

    I mean it’s also possible that she was in a chat with a friend and commenting on media of this type (whether laughing or sharing or whatever) and she opened the wrong chat program and slapped it into the most recent chat channel. Or a chat popped up from friend and a notification from the work chat popped up over it and you move too fast with copy/paste. I chat the wrong thing to the wrong people all the time because I’m managing several chat apps (both personal and work) on my phone – it’s never been this kind of content, but it would be really easy to accidentally do.

    It’s actually WAY less likely that she was watching this in a desktop and accidentally pasted it into the chat program. It’s much more likely she was on her phone and sending it (and for plausible deniability as a joke) to a friend she was chatting with and it went into the wrong chat program. If this happened to me, that would make me feel better about it.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, I feel like there must have been a step where she went to send it to someone and put it in the wrong chat window – otherwise why would she have the link copied? I think an extremely mortified “I meant to send this to a friend as a joke and accidentally put it in the absolute worst wrong chat window” is the best course of action. Everyone who has multiple ongoing chat threads has done this before (I mean, not with porn, but you can see how it would happen!)

  30. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I have teenage nephews. Definitely go with that explanation, as it is EXTREMELY plausible.

    1. Ellen N.*

      Why is everyone here pointing the finger at young people for porn use and pranks?

      I’m 60 years old. Although I am not a consumer of porn; I know plenty of senior citizens who are. I also know plenty of senior citizens who would think of sending porn to someone else’s coworker as fun hijinks.

      1. Dragoning*

        Because people would find “My idiot 16yo brother thought this was funny” more likely and more excusable than “Oh, my grandmother wanted to get me fired, apparently.”

        1. Donkey Hotey*

          Not to mention “brother” would be utterly forgettable. “My grandma sent this” would be one for the history books.

      2. Jennifer*

        I think most people know that many older people watch stuff like that too. I just think most people who are older would not post something like on a site related to someone’s work because they know very well that they could be jeopardizing their livelihood. A teen that has never had to support themselves may not think that far ahead. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

  31. redflagday701*

    Looking forward to the happy ending where her work crush turns out to share this very unusual fetish and this incident inspires a whirlwind romance.

  32. theelephantintheroom*

    I feel so bad for your employee, but this headline KILLED me (and to your employee: get it, girl!). I think Allison’s advice is spot on, though. Good luck!

  33. Ruffingit*

    We’ve all been there with something like this – maybe not posting porn links, but accidental emails/texts to the wrong person with content we wouldn’t have shared with them, saying the absolute wrong thing to someone in a position of power at work, etc. There is no one on the planet who has escaped unscathed from embarrassing moments at work.

    Here;s mine: We used a chat interface at work to talk with clients and each other. A colleague was chatting with clients and had mentioned to me prior to the chat starting that they were annoying clients. An hour or so later, I thought the chat was done and sent her a message that said something along the lines of “Hope the obnoxious clients weren’t too much today.” Well…turns out she was still in the chat and my comment appeared in the chat as it was sent to her. This chat software was weird. GAH!! This meant the client would have seen it had she not quickly deleted it from the chat.

    So yeah…mortified!! But, that was a few years ago and I moved on. It’s not as intense as the OP’s employee certainly, but I remember the feelings of embarrassment and horror. I so hope Jane is able to stay with the company and move forward from this. These kinds of things are part of being human and living with other humans. HANG IN THERE JANE!

  34. RVA Cat*

    Along with addressing this as an accident, could the company do something to prevent inappropriate material from appearing on this chat? Her mistake may end up *preventing* a bad employee from using the forum to harrass people.

    1. Elsajeni*

      Yeah, I was wondering about that — it might be worth looking into whether it’s possible or appropriate to add some moderation tools, block images/gifs/videos from appearing in the chat stream, limit who can post to this particular channel? Especially for an “announcements-to-all” channel that many people have alerts turned on for — even sending a totally innocent misdirected message to that channel seems like it could have been an annoying and embarrassing mistake.

  35. President Porpoise*

    I am sympathetic to the employee. How awful! How embarrassing!

    This doesn’t seem to be the case at OP’s company… But literally everywhere I have ever worked explicitly banned the use of company owned equipment to intentionally access pornography. It has always been a first offense firing type thing. I have known people who have been fired for it. So, OP, I suggest going to HR with this to ensure there’s not a similar situation at your workplace, and giving as much compassion and empathy as possible to your employee.

    Best of luck.

    1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      I work in one of these places! It’s a state government employer, where state law prohibits using state-issued devices to access sexually explicit material.

    2. Daffy Duck*

      Further info from the LW says it was from her personal phone while on vacation. Not uncommon to have your company chat on a personal phone for many people.

  36. voyager1*

    Had a coworker once send a explicit video to a work email group instead of a personal one. This may have been on a personal device (it was a Blackberry), don’t remember now. This happened at a Fortune 500 company. The sender of the video cleaned out his desk that day (on his own accord) and was let go a few hours later. In his case it was clearly an accident too.

    Moral of the story. Keep your kinks separate from your work life.

    1. Mommy.MD*

      I’d be escorted out the next time I showed up for work. Company has zero tolerance and you sign a form every year stating you understand. Hope for her sake it blows over.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And was let go later? So they pulled a ‘You can’t quit, you’re fired!’ on him?! Yikes.

      But being in a rough and tumble industry myself, I’m just like “Hm.” at this kind of reaction. It takes a safety violation of some kind or absolute insubordination/ineptitude to be let go on the spot for most things. It’s hard to find people to do the jobs though, so there’s that.

    3. JoAnna*

      The LW clarified in another comment that the employee in question accidentally sent the link while on vacation using her personal device. So she WAS following your advice, she just made a mistake with a work program that was on her personal phone.

  37. Quill*

    OP, at one of my previous jobs, we did not have IT, and my predecessor accidentally downloaded a virus that transformed the internet on the laptop I inherited into a wall of dicks. This kind of stuff happens! Please feel free to let your employee know that there are plenty of people who have been on takedown duty for similar accidents, she’s actually saved IT and HR a a decent amount of time by deleting it herself. :)

      1. Quill*

        I became IT at that workplace during my first day quest to remove every trace of dick from my computer.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve interviewed people for IT jobs and frankly if you told that story as part of a “how I got into IT” speal I’d die laughing and probably hire you. :p

          (Takes skill to remove all that trash off a machine!)

          1. Quill*

            It took disgust, google on my phone, and a working knowledge of the run command, gained from when I tried to play computer games on a windows vista laptop. :)

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Hahahaha! OMG, that’s obnoxious!

      I belong to an FB group that is devoted to things like subversive cross-stitch. Needless to say, I never check FB on my work computer, or on my phone.

      1. Happily Self Employed*

        Re subversive cross-stitch: Our local Museum of Quilts and Textiles had an exhibition that included a cross-stitch of “Behold my field of f****; it is barren”.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ooooh, cool!

          I bought the “Subversive Cross Stitch” book, but I haven’t had time to make any.

          I also bought some adult (swearing) coloring books – bunnies and F-bombs, it’s a thing.

  38. Ginger*

    Maybe put a post about the importance of staying up to date on anti virus patches or crazy spam can come through.

    It puts the message out there that *of course* it was some crazy spam.

    If the employee really is a stellar team member, this lets her save face, ends speculation and that’s that.

  39. Kiki*

    In solidarity… have everyone post porn? And pretend there is a virus?

    I know this is a terrible idea, I just feel so bad for her!

    1. Heidi*

      That’s like starting a bunch of fake rumors to hide the one rumor that is true. Or committing a series of murders so that you don’t call attention to your own motive for a specific murder.

  40. anon4this*

    “The more you can do to push those other possibilities into her brain, the better.”
    I’m confused. This sounds accidental, but the employee in question called with zero excuses for it, was mortified and tried to resign. There is no “my nephew was playing a prank”, “someone hacked my computer”, “i got pranked and the delete button is now the copy/paste feature”. She actually posted *this* sort of content by accident.
    I’d be more concerned about the level of sensitive information she has access to and whether there could be other accidents (maybe not of this sort of nature but with confidential information). If she’s accidentally posting this to her company, imagine what’s accidentally being posted to another website or could be in the future.
    She also is reasonably embarrassed that a 200-person company (that is…a lot of people) and it sounds like the OP wants to keep her because she’s a good employee, which isn’t really thinking of what’s in her best interest. Personally I’d ask her to stay to train a replacement and then let her gracefully leave (if she really wants to). For me, this would be beyond the pale…

      1. anon4this*

        I mean, is that all that happened?
        If it was just “pasting a link”, why is AAM asking her boss to “push other possibilities” and why did the employee in question call in a complete panic and resign on the spot over the phone?
        Obviously, it’s the explicit nature of the posted link by the employee, to a forum that 200 of her coworkers read and have access to. What a day for new interns to start, or a “Bring your kid to work” day.

        1. ZS*

          I think you’re jumping to more extreme conclusions and judgement than even the LW did: going from ‘accidentally posted a link’ to security of confidential information is way too much of a stretch.

          People get stressed in embarrassing incidents, so when she found out what happened she would rather resign that put up with the public embarrassment? We can’t automatically assume the worse ill intent.

      2. kt*

        I too think this is rather extreme, and I think the contradiction between that extremeness (she’s looking at porn, so what confidential information is she posting on public forums?) and the idea that you should keep her to train a replacement… is odd.

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      No one thinks a nephew was playing a prank. Allison’s suggestion was simply to make sure the employee knows that there are other explanations out there and that maybe not everyone is automatically assuming this reflects her porn tastes, even though it probably does. Even though these scenarios aren’t likely, the employee may feel better and be willing to keep her job if she’s reminded that mistakes can happen for all kinds of reasons that go beyond “I was watching this weird porn.”

    2. Joielle*

      That’s… a real stretch. She’s human, sometimes you accidentally hit a bad combination of keyboard shortcuts, or your cat stands on the keyboard, or whatever, and something ends up being pasted in the wrong place. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but if you’re going to fire anyone with the potential to accidentally post something somewhere it shouldn’t be… that’s literally all of us. Every single human being who uses a computer.

  41. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    I’d like to push back a bit. Where I work (a state government employer) accessing porn on my work-issued computer would be a really big deal! It’s prohibited by state law!

    In my workplace, we’d immediately be asking the follow up question — how did this happen? If it happened on a personal device due to any of the possible explanations offered, we might just remind the employee of the prohibition on accessing explicit content on a state owned/issued device. But if this happened because the employee was accessing the porn site on their work computer, I think a more serious response would need to follow even if it was simply a written counseling.

      1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        Thanks! I posted my comment early on, before that clarification. I think that makes a huge difference and would certainly have me fully endorsing Alison’s answer.

  42. BeeBoo*

    I feel so bad for your employee! Once, years ago, I was trying to email my mom a photo of a couch I was thinking of buying and accidentally emailed her a porn video. My mother then called me, telling me my mistake. I most horrified. Moreso after my mom told me she watched the video and the actress looked like me and asked if it was….

    I remember this moment explicitly every time I send my mother an email with an attachment. its long gone from her head. So let your employee know that while they will remember this moment for a long time, no one else will!

      1. BeeBoo*

        Not me! But will be forever horrified at the thought that my mother thought it could be… and watched thinking there was a chance it might be!

        1. Campfire Raccoon*

          *mom squints at the screen**

          “I changed thousands of diapers, but never from THIS angle….”

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      ‘Yeah Mum, but did you see the couch in the background of the vid?’

      (Thank you Dad for that suggestion…)

  43. Ruffingit*

    One thing to consider here in regards to the comments about her posting this from a work laptop – we don’t know that this was from a work laptop. It just said she wanted to mail her laptop in to the company, which I read as her wanting to return work equipment without having to come into the office. It doesn’t say she posted this from her work laptop, only that it was posted to a company chat, which she may have been able to do from a personal device. Also, she’s on vacation/PTO so for me, that is more evidence that she wasn’t on the company computer.

    Just putting this out there because the whole use of company equipment to access porn may not actually be a problem here.

      1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        Thanks for that update, if that’s the case I am 100% behind Alison’s advice.

  44. Case of the Mondays*

    When I was studying for the bar, I went to Vegas on a reunion trip w/ my husband’s high school friends. We had a giant suite with multiple bedrooms. At least 8 people were officially sleeping there and many more were hanging out late at night. I made the mistake of leaving my laptop in the living room. Flying home, I decided to work on my Bar Prep. The plane had free wifi and my laptop auto connected since I had been on the wifi on the outbound flight. As soon as I opened up my laptop to turn it on, porn started playing. I hadn’t even put my headphones in yet since I was just booting it up.

    Someone had been watching porn on it the night before and just closed the top when they were done. When I re-opened the top it just started playing where it left off. Luckily I quickly realized what was going on, slammed the top shut and plugged in my earphones. Then I was able to open the lid just enough to get in and close the window without the people around me seeing the content. I was seated at the front of the plane too with a large laptop screen.

    At least it was a Vegas flight.

    1. Ruffingit*

      LOL! What happens in Vegas…

      I had something like this happen, but it was actually worse in my case. I was in a hotel room near the hospital where my mother was a patient. I had flown in from another state and was using my laptop to work on a school paper I had due. The hospital called and let me know my mother was ready to discharge. I left my laptop open in the hotel room and locked the door behind me. This was a small hotel in a small town.

      When I returned from the hospital to my hotel room, I accessed my computer history to find a previous source I had looked up to use in my paper. The history showed at least three porn videos that I had not accessed. The time stamp had them accessed when I wasn’t even in the room. My money was on the teenage boy working the hotel desk being the culprit as only he and the maid would have had access. Could of been the middle age maid too I suppose, but I’m guessing not.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I’m so sorry that happened to you. I would have been utterly livid. I once had a landlord who let his friend whom I’d never met use my computer (with all my personal info) without asking or even telling me, and I stormed into his section of the house yelling.

        Strangely, he seemed not to understand why this would be a problem. I’d previously repaired his laptop (yeah, he pressured me to do this for free) and seen that it was full of dating apps. I should have asked how he’d feel if someone showed those to his wife… sadly, I didn’t think of that at the time.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I did and was told to call the corporate office (this was a chain hotel, though one of the smaller ones). They literally did not care and what’s worse, they used my contact info to begin cold calling me about signing up for their time shares. It was just…yeah.

  45. Kashurra*

    Hmm, I agree with Alison about going to HR. This is not a scenario that one ignores and hopes blows over. For anyone in that chat seeing that link/content, it is sexual harassment, purposeful or not. As her manager, it is incumbent on them to have a talk with them now – especially if it is a work laptop that was used. That could very well be a fireable offense. They do need to know how it occurred, and they do need to speak with HR about this. It needs to be documented as I foresee worse consequences if they try to brush it off. Not documenting an event like this (regardless of how humiliating and accidental it is) could cause more issues down the line.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Doesn’t it have to be persistent, for it to be considered harrassment? It’s obviously sexual, but I’m having a hard time seeing how this would meet the bar for any kind of persistent or repeated behaviour.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        It wouldn’t rise to the level of harassment, but could very likely break one or more company policies.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes.

        But it needs to be recorded for tracking of patterns purposes.

        So that if she was actually engaged in sexual harassment, this seemingly first transgression is properly noted.

        So next time if it were to happen, there wouldn’t be that “Wait this is the first time I’m hearing about it…”

        HR needs to know about anything that could lead to a bigger issue. Document, document, document, CYA stuff.

    2. Observer*

      No it’s not. ONE video, taken down shortly is not “harassment”. The only exception would be if the video had threats or made usgly and explicit statements about a particular person.

  46. Fisharenotfriends*

    I just want to take a moment of silence for the poor employee. The mortification.

    I, once at my current workplace, needed to track down a co-worker and my new phone autocorrected an industry specific acronym for a phallic suggestion. I died inside and apologized immediately, and had HR laugh me out of their office when I took it to them. Even though it was a private text message, I felt that it was worse if I hid it.

    I think we can all agree that she understands the gravity of what happened and that it shouldn’t be repeated. There’s nothing here that specifically says this happened on a company device or otherwise did something to put the systems security at risk so I don’t know I’d talk to her about this, but if it was in my power, I might ask my IT department to publish a staff wide email about protecting yourself from spear-fishing attacks and how malicious players can threaten to embarrass people as an act of exploitation. Completely leaving her out of it, of course, but giving a push of plausible deniability. Those phishing attacks are getting more and more realistic– and we could always stand to be more vigilant.

  47. Not for academics*

    OP, I think the best thing you can do for OP is your best effort to get her employed somewhere else. Give her an EXCELLENT reference for a better job. Anywhere I’ve ever worked, she’d forever be branded as “The Chick Who Posted Weird Porn To Slack.” and no one wants to be that guy.

  48. Mel_05*

    This would be horrifying, but it can totally happen to anyone without it even being their porn.

    I used to work for a company that was super cheap and I would find free resources on the internet to make up for it.
    Well, that’s a fab way to get a virus and I definitely had one situation where my computer was constantly pulling up porn pop-ups and another one where the virus took over my email and started using it to send spam.

    No one at my company thought I was trying to be inappropriate and it was a very conservative company. They just knew that these things happen.

    1. Blue Horizon*

      I had this happen once back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, the Web was a new thing, and people used to amuse themselves by putting the http prefix in front of a word and seeing what popped up. (It was a simpler time, and we didn’t know it wasn’t harmless, although I was about to find out).

      I was entertaining myself this way for a few minutes before accidentally doing it with one that had a second meaning that was a slang porn term. I realized my probable mistake a second too late, and suddenly my browser was popping up all manner of really unpleasant images. Worse, it was one of the kind that endlessly opened popup after popup (before browsers started to build in protection against it) and I could not keep up, no matter how I tried. All this in a busy open plan office with people walking past. I decided on the nuclear option pretty quickly and hit the main power, then did a disk check and comprehensive malware scan once it started back up (thankfully this was also before browsers remembered the sites you were on after a restart).

  49. Matilda Jefferies*

    I wanted to play this out for a minute from a risk management perspective. Assuming it was an honest mistake, it was a pretty low-consequence one. Apart from the embarrassment of the employee herself, which is not nothing! But in terms of impact on the business – nobody was hurt, no deadlines were missed, no money was lost, no crime was committed. It was corrected immediately, and it’s almost certainly not going to happen again.

    There might be some damage to the employee’s professional reputation, but my guess is that it will be negligible. I don’t think anybody will ever forget, but I also don’t think most people will care, after the initial excitement wears off. And speaking of reputations, I would really not want to be the manager who fires an excellent employee for one mistake! The consequences of that are worse – not only would you lose the excellent employee, but you would risk creating the impression that all mistakes are fireable offenses, regardless of any mitigating circumstances. I would much rather be the manager who understands that her employees are humans who occasionally make mistakes, even super-dumb ones.

    1. Czhorat*

      Well, it isn’t harmless. Publicly sharing pornography can get into “hostile workplace” sexual harassment really quickly if it keeps happening, and exposing over 200 employees to sexually explicit material is very much not acceptable.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Oh, absolutely it’s a problem if it keeps happening. But that’s a different question. The actual impact of this mistake, in these circumstances, is incredibly low. I think we can treat this incident for what it is, rather than assuming it’s the thin edge of the wedge of anything bigger.

      2. Aitch Arr*

        This.

        Also, if the type of porn were triggering (e.g., a forced consent type fantasy), that could cause harm to those who accidentally viewed it.

        Again, because I feel like this is getting lost in some of my posts, I understand that this was not intentional on the part of the employee. Impact > Intent so it is not reasonable or responsible to just act like what took place did not happen.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think the first part of your sentence necessitates the second, though. Right now the impact on other employees seems to be negligible, and the situation itself is resolved. In general, when something is resolved you move forward and don’t worry about it anymore, which is indistinguishable from acting like it didn’t happen. Is there something else you think needs to be done?

        2. Dragoning*

          I suppose…what would be your suggestion here?

          It happened on time off, on a non-work device, was entirely accidental, it was a singular incident with no indication of a repeatable habit or security gap, the employee is mortified (and for sure the employee will be excruciatingly careful in the future).

          There’s not a lot the company can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

          Yes, it may have triggered people….but what is any penalty to the employee going to do to rectify that issue? You could remind people of the EAP, perhaps, but that would seem…strange, I think, to most people in this situation.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            My advice would be what I posted elsewhere: the manager should let HR know what took place, including the fact that the posting was unintentional, the employee was horrified and apologetic, that the employee is a stellar employee, and then let HR do whatever investigation they see fit.

            1. Dragoning*

              I feel like that just punts the “what would you even do about this?” question to HR, which is just a lot of work for more people to come to the conclusion that this is unsolvable and doesn’t really need to be dealt with from an HR/Management point of view.

              1. Aitch Arr*

                Except that it does need to be dealt with. Even if ‘dealt with’ means, thanks for telling us, we documented what took place and that you verbally counseled the employee. Ignoring the situation is bad for everyone.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            My suggestion would be to just let her resign. She’s doing you the kindness of solving the problem herself.

            1. Little My*

              The OP did not present the posting of porn to the company chat as the problem. In the OP’s opinion that was addressed when the employee took it down from the chat ASAP, and by their own reporting, the situation has died down, just as they thought it would (see their comment above in this thread). The problem the OP wrote in with was that she does not want the employee to resign at all. Your “solution” is literally the problem the OP wrote in with.

      3. Coder von Frankenstein*

        IF it kept happening, it would indeed get into that territory. However, at this moment it has only happened once, and presumably it will not happen again from this employee. So the “if it keeps happening” scenario is hardly relevant.

  50. Spek*

    Ha! Awesome. technology can screw you. One time we got an all hands message that Clive was retiring after 30 years and there would be cake in the large conference room and I forwarded it to a coworker with a big rant about how when the Stephen, the CEO for two years before he left for another company got a plaque and a catered lunch and a $4000 watch, while Clive had been a loyal drafter for 30 years and got a Safeway cake, a cup of sprite and a boot in the ass out the door – and I Replied All. Yikes!

    1. Zona the Great*

      Sometimes our subconscious does for us what really needed to happen. That’s a dick move!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      But what was the response to this?!

      Because I secretly think you’re awesome pointing out this kind of disgusting difference.

      Everyone just gets a cake here, including when the CEO leaves.

      Previously places the only time I saw someone ushered out the door with more than a simple good-bye style cake and punch send off was when it was basically buying silence due.

      1. Spek*

        A couple “you go!” replies. Silence from management. My boss wasn’t on the email list because he was in a different location. New CEO was very inexperienced and probably didn’t want to make waves, and quite possibly agreed with me – it was a big multinational company. Nothing from Clive; he was in the distribution because the cake was a surprise (some people didn’t even get that).
        I thought I was surely gonna get fired, but it turned out to be no big deal.

  51. we're basically gods*

    *I* want to melt into the floor and never work again just after reading this! The poor employee….

  52. stampysmom*

    The only issue that I see is HR coming down on inappropriate usage of company property. Since she wants to mail in the laptop its owned by the company. In my huge company its a no no to use our work laptops for anything outside of work. So if I was access porn at any time or if I insinuated that I lent my laptop to ANYONE for ANY reason I’d be terminated. Back in the day I recall going on mapquest.ca vs mapquest.com which at the time would just start spamming with naughty popups. I self reported being new and knowing the policy. They said they weren’t looking at that level of issue because it happens. Possibly she could use something along those lines if HR is stricter than the boss. In any case I would likely be terminated over this. Or be on a PIP.

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      She has a company laptop she would need to return if she resigns, but that doesn’t mean she was posting from said laptop. The letter writer confirmed that the employee was on her personal phone.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      A secondary thought though is that this story is an example of crossing streams. I can’t access any of my work stuff on my private devices, so this simply couldn’t happen to me (plenty of other errors possible, just not this type).

      It may be very convenient to have everything sync everywhere all the time, but this is why the only work content on my private devices is my boss’s phone number in my contacts. I have refused to have work emails on my smartphone, for example.

  53. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    This is obviously less terrible (and maybe off-topic, remove me if you need to), but one time I was at a bar with my friends, and the waitress took so long to bring the food menus out that we looked it up online using the Google function that takes you straight to the menu. It did not take us to the menu though, it took us to some very explicit porn gifs. After laughing our heads off, we told the waitress, who presumably then had to tell her manager that the menu was porn. This LW could easily have miss-copied a link to something and it ended up with gif porn like this!

      1. AppleStan*

        For some reason, reading you “saying this” takes me to Martha Stewart’s “It’s a good thing!”

  54. Buffy*

    Everyone here seems to be in agreement that it’s a one off complete mistake, completely understandable, crap like this happens. Buuuuuut….I have to ask: is this because it was a woman who accidentally posted that link and not a man? I work for a large software company and like every employee of a company that size, I’ve been subjected to the annual preventing the Anti-harassment training which ALWAYS includes the scenario of Sleezy Guy “accidentally” exposing his coworkers to explicit content. Things like starting to display a presentation only there’s a highly inappropriate image on the screen or the link that gets sent out that turns out to be porn and the instigator does the awkward ‘heh heh heh, well I wonder how THAT got there.” Then gets written up and released by HR? How does giving the employee in the OPs scenario a pass impact future issues? Person in my scenario at the same company could easily claim gender bias when a woman gets a pass at posting explicit content but a man gets written up and possibly terminated over the same thing? Why couldn’t every Sleazy Guy claim it was a ‘mistake’ same as this employee? Are we victims of our own gender bias and thinking that of course it was an error! Women don’t do that! Whereas with a man, we are inclined to disbelieve that it was a mistake? I’m not by any means suggesting that she DIDN’T do it accidentally and there are a myriad of ways it could have happened especially since she was using a personal device while on holiday. I’m questioning whether or not we would feel the same if a man had been the one posting.

    1. Quill*

      The instant mortification and taking it down would probably still sway me towards “an accident.”

      Sleaze has usually stained everything around it by the point a guy has escalated that far, and guys who escalate sexual harassment usually focus harder than an all company group chat.

    2. fposte*

      I think you base it on the knowledge of the person, not simply the gender. If the OP’s workplace had a zero-tolerance policy for any sexual material the employee would be out, but I’m presuming there isn’t such a policy. Therefore I wouldn’t automatically fire a male employee for an accidental reposting of porn either; I’d consider the employee’s response to the situation and behavior as a whole.

      And in either case, this isn’t the only chance ever to fire them. It’s reasonable to consider this an accident and be unable to keep the employee on if a second occurrence draws that into question.

    3. Coder von Frankenstein*

      If you swapped out the “she” pronouns for “he” in the letter… my attitude would not change at all. As a rule, people who engage in this type of harassment do not then call up their boss in a panic and announce their intent to resign.

    4. Blueberry*

      If a man immediately deleted it, contacted his boss freaking out, and offered to quit then and there, and he’d been a Rockstar employee and a kind and decent guy up to that point? …. yes, I would make the same judgement.

      In my experience of harassment (both having been nonsexually harassed myself, and having heard about others’ experiences with sexual harassment in different venues, including on this site) there are patterns of actions and connections to other statements and attitudes by the perpetrator. The “Missing Stair” concept is really instructive — people warn each other to avoid the Missing Stair. They evince a pattern and gain a reputation. There’s rarely one First Dramatic Incident rather than escalation from tiny statements to huge horrible misdeeds.

      As I said, these patterns can be seen in posts on this very site about sexual harassment.

      Also, to be honest, I write this in the assumption that the above question is posed in good faith. Very often such questions are posed to introduce/amplify the idea that dealing with sexual (and other) harassment means that One Possibly Misinterpreted Incident Will Be Used To Destroy Someone’s Life. In my experience even one incident of hands-on sexual assault usually doesn’t evoke responses.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        I agree with Blueberry. Doesn’t matter what gender, the employee’s reaction (taking down mistake, calling boss) is what matters.
        In my limited experience is more likely for women to push the line or sexually harass men nowadays than the other way around. As a woman I have shut a couple of those females down – and they were always surprised I wasn’t “on their side”.

        1. Blueberry*

          btw, well done on your part. Some twisted form of “payback” is the very antithesis of justice.

      2. Buffy*

        Yes, this is a good faith question. My direction was not that it this would be a case of ‘First dramatic Possibly Misinterpreted Incident that will destroy someone’s life”. It’s more along the lines of are we sure we aren’t inadvertently opening the door for Sleazy Guy to escalate and claim ‘Oooops!!’ and then how would we defend against that? I know at my company, inadvertent or not, this would be grounds for immediate dismissal regardless. While I don’t espouse such draconian, one size fits all responses, I certainly see why a company would draw a hard line on something like this and I was wondering for companies that don’t, how this could potentially make it more difficult for them to shut down Sleazy Guy(Gal).

        1. Blueberry*

          As The Man Becky Lynch said, ” “heh heh heh wonder how that got there, oops.” is the opposite of “*delete* omfg here’s my resignation, I am mortified that this happened.” ”

          And I would bet $5 that our hypothetical Sleazy Person can’t resist pulling this trick more than once. Once is a mistake. Twice establishes a pattern, and then you can freely nail the malefactor to the wall.

    5. Gazebo Slayer*

      I’d have the exact same response – that the manager should sympathetically and kindly accept his resignation.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      BEcause responding with “heh heh heh wonder how that got there, oops.” is the opposite of “*delete* omfg here’s my resignation, I am mortified that this happened.”

      It’s not about the gender, it’s about the track record and response.

      Taking responsibility and showing remorse also works in your favor in actual court cases as well. Just saying.

    7. Observer*

      Well, it comes down to patterns of behavior. Even if I got the creeps from a guy, without something more solid I would not release even Creepy Guy after the first time something like that happened.

      Now, if this kind of mistake happened multiple time I would move it to the category of “mistake” and deal with it for what it is. Or if the “mistake” happens after a few people have mentioned that creepy guy makes overly personal comments to the women in the office, stands close to people, or other behavior that sidles right up to the edge of clearly problematic.

      And that’s why good HR folks take complaints about stuff like that seriously and document them, even when they can’t take immediate action. Because that kind of context makes ALL the difference in what is a reasonable reaction.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        “And that’s why good HR folks take complaints about stuff like that seriously and document them, even when they can’t take immediate action. Because that kind of context makes ALL the difference in what is a reasonable reaction.”

        Yes! It also helps us be able to take appropriate action against Sleazy Guy, because we’ve documented and shown what we do in other similar situations.

  55. Sally Forth*

    I worked in a seminary library and porn spam took over my computer. IT wouldn’t let me click away. I unplugged the computer in a panic and called IT. The IT guy told me this happened to him at his parents’ over the holidays and it wasn’t my fault. Then he took it away to work on it. IT then sent out a memo re this porn spam and what to do. They were worried some people would be so embarrassed they would cause further network damage rather than report it.

  56. Amber Rose*

    This post is cringe porn. Oh that poor employee. I would also want to resign, get plastic surgery and start a new life in another country under a new name.

    But also I can’t stop laughing. Hopefully someone will one day teach this person to find the humor in this.

  57. Sockit2me*

    If she’s sensitive about people knowing and occasionally talking about this, I think she should resign unless you have a ton of turnover. This won’t be a *focus* forever, but people will definitely remember it forever, and it will probably come up from time to time as a funny story. If she’s okay with that, great. But it sounds like she decidedly is not okay with that. Sometimes people do things at work that make them not want to work there anymore and that’s okay, too.

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Obviously, if the employee is dead set on resigning, she will resign. That’s her call to make. It isn’t like her manager can force her to stay if she is determined to quit.

      But I don’t think that decision should be made in the heat of the moment. Better to wait and see if a) it becomes A Thing, and b) if it does become A Thing, how bad A Thing it is. Right now, the employee is probably imagining the entire company lined up to point and laugh and disapprove, because that’s what it feels like to discover that you have put something intensely private out there for all to see. The reality could be anything from “this becomes a running joke” (in which case the employee probably will end up resigning, because who wants that?) to “everyone assumes it was spam/hacking and it’s all forgotten in a month,” to points in between.

  58. Lena Clare*

    I would absolutely assume it was spam if I received something like that, and wouldn’t even click on the link.

    I hope she doesn’t resign!

    (But I am intrigued as to what the kink was…just sayin’).

  59. Warm Weighty Wrists*

    OMG, poor Jane! This sort of thing can totally happen accidentally–I know!
    I am a big fan of a particular video game, so I signed up to follow a bunch of fan accounts on Tumblr, expecting things like “This plot point gave me feels” or “Gosh I wish you could romance CharacterX, wouldn’t that be fun?” Then I was scrolling through during a break at work (totally allowed at my company to use work computers for that), when suddenly… elf genitalia! I frantically scrolled past, only to find even more explicit art conveniently waiting further down. This is in an open office with my very large monitor facing the entire room. The entire rest of my day was spent blushing, trying to Act Normal, and hoping nobody had seen anything, so I definitely understand the mortification, but nobody saw and if they did nobody ever said a word about it. (I did figure out which accounts were the issue when I was at home and unfollowed them.)
    I hope Jane gets the message that it could happen to anyone and she’s still a valued employee.

  60. revueller*

    I very much agree with Alison. At the very least, this was embarrassing for everyone involved — especially the LW’s employee — and it’s much better to let it pass without incident. Don’t make announcements or a mass apology — that makes it into a thing with everyone, including people who didn’t see the original post and are now wondering, “Wait, what happened?” Surely, some people will come up and ask about it; when that happens, the employee should definitely express her own mortification and pass it off as an accident — because it really, really is believable as an accident.

    If you both downplay it as an accident (and it never, ever, ever happens again), this definitely should blow over. Everyone will want to forget about it, so let them.

  61. Dasein9*

    OP, maybe send your employee a link to this thread? The outpouring of solidarity here might well be what she needs to see.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Considering some of the commentary about how she will never live it down and deserves to be fired if she hadn’t resigned, please don’t send her this.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Not even that – just the fact that it’s been shared at all with thousands of people would freak her out even more.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yes, absolutely this as well!

          And I know the majority is Pro This Person and you’d think “The majority is sympathetic and understanding.” so you think it’s a good read for them.

          But as a person who is extra sensitive on certain things, especially something that’d make me resign immediately. That couple of nay sayers are what you hear in your head when you try to move forward, not the army behind you telling you that it’s going to be a-okay!

      2. JediSquirrel*

        Yes, there is a surprisingly vocal section of the commentariat that is always “time to start looking for a new job”, even though we only get a tiny little portion of the overall picture here. This is totally survivable. She’s an outstanding employee with an outstanding boss. This will completely be forgotten about in a very short time. People have short attention spans and other things will come along to make them forget about this.

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        I definitely feel like she’ll never live it down, but I don’t think she “deserves” to be fired- it really was an accident, I feel really bad for her, but I just can’t see any way past it that isn’t more painful than resignation.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          This truly boggles my mind. I can’t imagine seeing this link/video and caring about it for more than ten minutes let alone the end of time. Saying she’ll never live it down just feels like hyperbole and fear mongering to me.

  62. Anonymosity*

    Oh noooooooooooo
    This happened to me once, in a discussion forum, fortunately not at work. Somehow a link to an explicit video had escaped a bookmark, and it was not superseded by subsequent copying. I posted a link to what I thought was a cute video of lions. Nope, not lions. I blamed it on spam and pretended to shut down and do a virus check. I’m quite sure I didn’t fool them, but they nicely let me save face and it was never mentioned again.

    Truly, this could happen to anyone for any number of reasons, as Alison pointed out. I’ve since adopted the practice of checking any links in a different tab before I post them in the forum, just in case.

  63. Ada Lovelace*

    A few years ago, I was working on a federal grant application. Since it needed to be mailed in and as usual, we were running up on the deadline, I was frantically putting packets together. I made the discovery that the URL on the foundation’s letterhead did not lead to the foundation’s website; instead leading to a page with questionable info (not porn but written explicit and conspiracy text). The letterhead was used for years for grants applications and donor requests. Turned out, they (IT/finance) let the domain lapse sometime before and until I was curious and googled it, no one had ever checked it. That was a fun conversation to have with my not tech-literate VP. Nothing could be done about the other application that went out the day before…

    1. Observer*

      IT / Finance allowed the domain name lapse!? Now, I REALLY need some pearls to clutch and some smelling salts!

      I made my org take the a couple of related domain names, just to make sure no sleaze buckets got them and used them for ugly stuff. And your finance people were of with letting the domain name that appears on your letterhead and NO ONE IN IT THOUGHT TO CHECK IT?!

      This sounds more like the keystone cops than a reasonably well run organization.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        “Why are we paying for this we only get 12 hits a year, we have to make budget cuts so cut it.” see also why new letter head wasn’t ordered/designed.

  64. CommanderBanana*

    Well thank god she wasn’t wearing an O-ring collar, amirite

    Also, poor Jane! What a nightmare – but yes, honestly, framing this off as one of those weird technology things is the best way to go.

  65. agnes*

    I would absolutely push those other possibilities out there. First of all, they are real possibilities. It may not be what actually happened, but it COULD have happened. This is one time I think “alternative facts” might just be in order. I sure hate it for her.

  66. CynicallySweet*

    Maybe show ur OP some of the responses to this post where other ppl r sharing times this happened to them! On a personal level, if I saw this I’d think ‘what a hilariously unfortunate’ and would move on. It would not make me think less of them! (if they did it a second time there would be a question, but for a one time incident, nahhh)

  67. Heidi*

    She can totally ride this out. I mean, what is she going to say if a hiring manager asks why she left her old job?

    1. JediSquirrel*

      “My 13-year-old nephew got into my phone and posted porn to our company group chat. I owned it like such a boss that people were constantly fawning over me and overall productivity dropped to a dangerously low level. In the end, I decided to leave for the sake of the company, which I loved working for. So, do your benefits include vision as well as dental?”

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I really want to have a “best boss” contest to go along with the “worst boss” one.

  68. HelloHello*

    Maybe you could send around a company wide email with a reminder not to click on suspicious links because they could be hackers looking to hijack your computer or chat apps, and then let everyone sort of… assume that’s what happened?

    1. Persephone Underground*

      I actually really like this- I know it’s weirdly indirect, but our society’s approach to sex and the workplace grapevine being what they are, this is actually a pretty good idea.

  69. Commenter*

    Omg I have an embarrassing story that I almost left work over! When I was in my VERY twenties (barely 21)I was working at a non profit. My best friend worked there too and was promoted. The executive director sent an email announcing the promotion and I meant to forward it to my friend to joke with her but accidentally replied to the EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR with “won’t you be my sugar mama, babe!!?” As soon as I hit send I realized what I had done. I literally burst into tears and starting packing my desk. My boss tried to console me and do damage control but our departmental director was PISSED and yelling at me. I had been a really great worker up until then (all of us involved are female if it gives more context) Well as I was packing waiting to be fired, the Executive director came into my cubicle (where the department director was still fuming) and she was laughing so hard she had tears and did a little shoulder shake and said of course she’d be my sugar mama! She hugged me and told me it was not a big deal and just be more careful with emails. Everyone knew the promoted employee was my best friend and she knew exactly what had happened and how unbelievably upset and humiliated I was. It was a perfect way to handle (it was my very first office job and I had a good reputation) it in that moment and it became a huge joke around the organization so much so it was used as an example of what not to email. Honestly just writing this made me cringe and relive it. To this day (it’s been almost 20 years) I still am hyper vigilant when it comes to reply versus forwards and never sent an inappropriate email again.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Both you and the big boss played your roles well. Your utter devastation allowed her the space to just let it go. A person cannot possibly be that shook and be faking it.

      You know, the worst employees never show embarrassment. I have met two in my life. NOTHING ever embarrassed them. That was because they did not care one iota about the job. I remember in each case when a mistake was pointed out the employee did not react. There was a total disconnect going on. And in each case because this yellow flag was ignored, the situation got worse with the employee making larger mistakes and ignoring those mistakes also. And in turn, ignoring the correction that followed those mistakes. In both cases the employee was let go.

  70. LALALALA*

    Years ago when the Internet was just becoming a thing, I had a colleague who was looking to buy a volleyball net from our local Dicks Sporting Goods… She didn’t think it through and just added the dot com to Dicks and….. anyway!

    1. LALALALA*

      same job had a colleague who sent out an invitation to an online “all nads meeting” to 77k employees around the world when she meant an “all hands meeting.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This kind of innocent pranking of yourself is my favorite kind of prank, hahahaha yeaaaaaaaaaaas.

  71. Owlette*

    There seems to be a lot of pearl-clutching here. I think Alison’s advice was on point. I am baffled at the number of people saying that they would let her quit or that she deserves getting fired. Accidents happen, and I think that the company would be worse off for firing such a stellar employee–who would they get to replace her?

    If other employees are offended / feel harassed by her accidentally posting a porn video and IMMEDIATELY TAKING IT DOWN…well, that’s on those employees, then. They didn’t have to click on it or watch it. Millions of people watch porn. Many many many people watch kinky fetish porn. Just be adults about it.

  72. Anonymous for This*

    I tend to watch “interactive videos” from my phone…

    Normally, when you click on the “More Actions” button at the bottom of a web page, it provides you with things like “Copy Link” or “Request Desktop Site” or “Messenger” or “Twitter” or any other app.

    When the new iOS 13 came out, it made a great change…now the first thing offered is an immediate one-touch link to message any of the most recent 10 people you texted..complete, of course, with their picture (if you have that saved in your phone).

    Fantastic if you’re sharing a recipe.

    Not fantastic if you were trying to rewind a few seconds of an interactive video.

    The shock had me fumbling the phone, which, because Murphy’s Law, also meant I accidentally hit the button to send to the website to my parents. Luckily, I was able to prevent that.

    But…I did not enjoy that experience.

    I feel embarrassed enough just coming CLOSE to that experience…I truly can’t imagine what that employee is feeling right now.

    The point is, something like this can happen to ANYONE at anytime, especially in this day and age of technological advancement. We all could stand to be a little more careful, and sometimes, experience is the best teacher.

    Nothing she should think of quitting over…it will blow over in a few days!

  73. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I wouldn’t assume these are her kinks. It could be something like “I found this video on our son’s computer. What should we do?” or “OMG the guy I am dating sent me this and now I need to break up with him.” There’s a million things it could be before I’d assume it’s her kink.

  74. Suggestion*

    She’s probably stressing over how to explain what happened to the company. You might try drafting an apology for her to post. This shows her there is a way to present what happened, and it gets her started, so she can spend less time on it before moving on.

  75. Diamond*

    For what it’s worth, if a random shocking link showed up in a work chat I’d be quite happy to believe it was a virus. I’ve had quite a few ‘click me!’ type links sent to me on Facebook messenger which were clearly spam. If I was her I’d practice a few responses implying it was a virus in case anyone asks, and ignore it otherwise.

  76. Anonymous at a University*

    I agree with the fact that if she resigns, it would just make things stand out more dramatically in people’s minds, and possibly lead to speculation/gossip that won’t be there if she just stays out the rest of her PTO and comes back and management tells anybody who might inquire about it (which I think would be a pretty small group) that it’s been handled. I did at one point have a co=worker resign out of the blue over a small mistake- a typo in an e-mail that transformed an ordinary word into a swear word- and everyone was baffled. Then it came out that he’d been sleeping with someone he supervised, at a company where that was an incredible no-no, and had apparently thought the “investigation” that might follow the typo would uncover that, so he resigned preemptively. All anybody talked about after that was his romantic life, not the typo.

    For better or worse, people will pay a LOT more attention to a dramatic leaving than to papering over the mistake.

  77. Soylent Green*

    I would also suggest this for your employee, this is one of those situations where what she imagines will happen is a billions times worse than what will actually happen. If she won’t be talked out of resigning, I wonder if it would help to come in for a set period of time and then see if she still wants to resign. It might make it easier to come in if she knows there’s an out as well. Hopefully, she won’t use it

  78. LGC*

    Hm. I feel like in addition to all of this…maybe LW should tell their employee that she should wait a week before resigning? It sounds like this JUST happened, and obviously the employee is mortified. Ultimately, if she genuinely feels like she can’t work there, maybe resigning is the best option for her – but yeah, she doesn’t need to resign, and based off the letter I don’t think she should resign.

    On that note, the letter reads a bit like the LW themselves is emotional about this. I’d suggest trying to be as nonchalant about the situation – this is general management advice, but I’m afraid that especially in this case any emotions that LW shows will be amplified back by their employee. One of the goals here is to lower the temperature, so to speak – again, I don’t think the employee is thinking reasonably here, and I think she’ll take signs of distress as confirmation that this was the Worst Thing Ever.

  79. Blueberry*

    So several commenters think the LW’s employee should leave/be made to leave. As I was commuting home I thought about this, and came up with this example.

    Did you know that in many hospitals they photograph the surgeries? And that if you ask you can probably have the photos of your surgery sent to you?

    Suppose you were on your phone after gall bladder surgery, with the Work Chat open because you’d just messaged everyone “Got home safely, thanks for the good wishes!” and you were c&p’ing the photos from your email into a text session to horrify-delight your younger sibling and/or to discuss them with your doctor aunt. And you accidentally pasted one of the pictures into your work chat.

    The picture’s a graphic image [description removed by the Internet Decency Board], titled LastnameFirstnameInnards08.jpg so everyone who sees it knows it’s of your particular insides. Many people could definitely be disgusted and/or traumatized by this image. You’re horrified by your mistake and scramble to delete the picture, but it takes a minute or three.

    Would you quit over this? Should your boss, or HR, push you out of your job over this?

    The only difference in this hypothetical is that the image is of gore, not sex.

    1. Aitch Arr*

      I get where you are going with this – and I agree – but sexual imagery is more clearly prohibited by workplace discrimination laws and policy than gore is.

      1. Blueberry*

        That is true. I also had a thought about whether or not gore should be prohibited explicitly — I remember several letters here about coworkers inflicting horriffic imagery on others — but that really becomes another discussion.

        But I posed this hypothetical more about ethics than rules, if I’m making sense?

  80. StaceyIzMe*

    This one is difficult to explain and also difficult to expunge. The LW whose employee posted a link to very graphic material has the duty to deal with it. If the person is really amazing, would never do anything remotely similar and is otherwise a good employee- you can probably let it go with reiterating whatever the company guidelines are for acceptable use of company communications including chat and other channels. If the person is generally amazing but has some prior lapses in judgement, then a more formal conversation is in order, possibly including a PIP or termination (depending on the severity and number of instances of prior issues with judgement). I don’t think that you can just sweep it under the rug and move on without at least a token acknowledgement that this should NOT happen again.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There have been a bunch of comments like this and I can’t reply to them all so I’m picking this one.

      The employees knows it can’t happen again. She’s mortified and trying to quit over it. There’s zero need to ensure she knows how bad it was. Explaining the seriousness of a mistake and that it can’t happen again is for when you’re not sure someone fully gets it. She gets it. She doesn’t need to be hit over the head with it.

  81. YouCanGoHomeAgain*

    In regards to the link being spam, all I know is that suddenly I’m getting TONS of porn spam in my gmail and fortunately, it IS going in my spam box, but oh so frustrating. I don’t go to those sites AND they think I’m a male. It’s so bad I’m thinking of changing my email address that I’ve had for 20+ years. :(

  82. Ico*

    It’s really disappointing that a solution for a woman exposing her porn viewership is to blame it on a male instead (nephew from the answer and brother from the LW in a comment).

  83. Big Dave*

    I now feel terrible and I blame myself, since it was partly my idea. She got the onion rings and sweet pickles from my kitchen cabinet, and the two midgets are friends of a friend from my bowling league. If there was a way to turn back time, I would. I am so, so sorry.

  84. Autistic Farm Girl*

    Some of the comments (mostly on the facebook page, not here) saying that fetishes are disgusting and assuming that the employee was male (because obviously women don’t watch porn?) are vile. I thought people reading this blog were quite open, or at least tolerant enough to not be nasty to people different than them. Turns out i was wrong.

  85. Doctor Schmoctor*

    A few years ago in South Africa a woman sent a naughty selfie to her husband, but accidentally sent it to a school related Whatsapp group. She apologised and deleted it, but not before some idiot shared it with the whole world.
    People thought it was a huge joke, there were memes and crap floating around. It was disgusting (the people’s behaviour). I had a friend who shared all these memes and stuff on Facebook. HAD a friend.

    All this attention and stress just got too much, and resulted in a divorce.

    I definitely understand why this employee would want to resign. Stuff like this can damage one’s reputation permanently, even if it was just an accident.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any actual advice.

    1. TiredMama*

      Gah, at least she was not in the porn clip she shared! I don’t think you can come back from that.

    2. Blueberry*

      I remember that case and I’m so sad to hear they divorced over it. :(

      If people would just not freak out about sex, none of this would have happened.

  86. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’d probably encourage said staff member to take some time to breathe, calm down, think about things logically before making her permanent choice of how to deal with the matter. She’s obviously stressed a lot but it’s over a situation that is not irreversible. I think she might realise that with the excellent attitude you’ve got toward this, LW.

    Her coworkers don’t seem particularly distressed or dramatic about it do they? (If they are then disregard my advice)

    Situations like this in most places I’ve worked are dealt with largely depending on the consequences and the reactions. If it’s an honest mistake (I.e. not deliberately loading smut onto work systems) and other people largely laugh it off but take better care of their URL posting and malware scans in future it passes eventually.

    It begins to differ only when it’s seen as deliberate, if it becomes part of a pattern of behaviour, if there’s no remorse from the employee at all, if a lot of other people were seriously offended, if it took down a major company system or if it caused a leak of personal data.

    None of which apply here I believe. Mistakes happen in life. Sometimes the best thing to do isn’t run away from them as fast as possible. Sometimes it is. If the worst she’s going to get is a bit of teasing and jokes for a while then it might help her to know that so she could see that this isn’t a burn the bridges situation.

  87. Overagekid*

    Not sure if this has been asked elsewhere, but what does the boss do about other employees?

    Should she speak to them about it, make it clear this isn’t to be brought up?

    Or is it best to just leave it and let peoples common sense say that this is clearly not a topic that it’s cool to chat about?

  88. Charlotte*

    I’m not sure if I’m 100% on board with the answer. YES to everything Allison said, but also, what about the people who viewed it that were actually harmed?

    It’s clearly not sexual harassment, but only because it wasn’t persistent, not because it was unintentional. We all know we can cause hurt without meaning to. I personally am as kinky as they come, but there are certain images and kinks I can’t engage with because they trigger childhood trauma and sometimes panic attacks. If I had had that specific kink thrown at me out of nowhere in the work sphere, and I didn’t know this person was a model employee and all-round cool and considerate person, I would be VERY confused if the reaction were terse silence and bygones. I would definitely go to HR to ask what happened and why there’s radio silence from the company. It sounds like it’s a big company and many people don’t know this person personally and can’t possibly be expected to understand without explanation. So yes, definitely notify HR, and I would recommend that this poor, poor employee be prepared to apologize to anyone who (like me) would be upset and possibly harmed.

    But I feel so terrible for this poor person. I think we’ve all had actual literal nightmares about this and I wish I could tell her… yeah, this too shall pass.

  89. Anonymous for this*

    I once typed “whitehouse.com” instead of “whitehouse.gov” … from my government computer. When I worked for the governor.

    This was almost 20 years ago when the age of endless pop-ups reigned. Luckily everyone was very understanding but I had only been at that job a few months. Turns out quite a few people had the similar experience of forgetting to type .gov instead of .com on websites and have had somewhat similar situations happen (although not necessarily at work).

    Everyone forgot about it the next day. This too shall pass.

  90. Betsy S*

    Speaking as an IT person – I can see a huge difference between having a stash of porn on your computer, or a browser history of viewing porn on a company computer – and accidentally sending a bad link to a chat. As so many people have pointed out, weird things happen with links, especially porn links, and I think even Fortune 500 companies with strict policies may have enough experience to realize that now (although there are always a few rigid people some places)

    I’m not big on lying but “I’m mortified, I don’t know how that happened” is something that could fit here.

    As a heads – up to others : it is the case in many companies that using your personal device to access secure resources may loop your device in under your firm’s usage policies. If this is the case you should have been asked to sign something, and possibly install something, so do read the fine print.

    Another aside/; after a certain size, many companies put filters on who can post to the all-company chat room. There are pros and cons, and 200 is probably small enough to be manageable, but it’s something to think about.

  91. NBD*

    Oh, this poor kid! I really hope she doesn’t resign over this. I’ve seen similar things happen with coworkers and all anyone did was look away and stop talking until the inappropriate material was shut down.

  92. Pampaloon*

    As an HR person who has worked at several places with a zero tolerance policy – only bad HR would apply zero tolerance to something that is obviously a mistake, that was taken down quickly and when it is obvious that the embarrassment is worse than any other possible action that could be taken. We would investigate, move on and spend our time supporting the manager in trying to talk this valuable employee off the ledge. I hate it when bad HR makes the rest of us look like sitcom characters.

  93. lnelson in Tysons*

    Many moons ago when I worked as an admin assistant, my manager wanted to sign up for a conference. He gave me a web site to sign him up. It clearly wasn’t it when I opened it. Think along the lines when the big example was whitehouse.com vs whitehouse.gov.

    So after opening it, I said deadpan “I don’t think that you will be reimbursed for these fees.” Then he saw what it was. Yes I know it was an accident by his reaction (or he was an extremely good actor).
    He apologized and we moved on. Would I have been offended if it did it deliberately. Yup. Accidents happen.

  94. Mike*

    I can’t help but wonder if/how the reaction would be different if a man did this by accident. Rightly or wrongly, it seems that something like this (while embarrassing for anyone) is more so for a women however the consequences would be less than what a man would face (especially in the current climate of our society).

    1. Geno*

      Beat me to it. It’s interesting that the assumption here is the employee made an honest mistake. I’m confident if the employee was a man this would not be the first thought folks have.

      1. Blueberry*

        Are you psychic? Because in the thread I referenced above several of us said we’d have the same sympathy for a man who similarly made it clear this was a terrible mistake. What evidence do you have that we’re all lying?

    2. Anon Here*

      I have seen this happen to a man! He apologized and was not only forgiven but promoted! HOWEVER, he was young, white and had that “good kid from a good family,” sort of thing going on. I can see it playing out differently depending on the man in question.

  95. Anon Here*

    I didn’t read all the comments, but why are we assuming that this was OP’s porn for enjoyment and that she was the sender?

    Two possibilities came to mind for me:

    1) Someone else (friend or SO) grabbed her device and sent the porn, thinking it was funny.

    2) The porn was meant to be a joke, and was meant to be posted somewhere else – a social setting. She had it in her clipboard from posting it somewhere as a joke, and accidentally pasted the wrong thing into the work chat.

    The description made me think of porn that people post for humor and shock value. Not to fetish-shame. Just that that is statistically more likely than someone having a highly unusual combination of fetishes.

  96. Naughty Texter*

    I once sent a dirty, explicit text intended for my soon-to-be husband to my boss-who also knew my betrothed. I was absolutely mortified, couldn’t look my boss in the face for a few days, and it “blew” over. Lol. We still laugh about it today, and that happened 8 years ago.

  97. chickaletta*

    Hey, on the bright side, this is going to build tons of character and she will have an amazing, unbelievable bar story to tell for years to come! :)

    Also, I feel less worse about stumbling over words while talking to my boss earlier today.

  98. EchoEcho*

    From a legal perspective, would OP’s employee be at risk for a sex offender conviction in the event that a coworker let their child use a device that was also logged in to the Slack, and the kid saw a thumbnail of the link or clicked on it?

  99. Greg*

    Most of the comments here seem to be operating under the assumption that the link was posted completely innocently, via a hack or something. That may well be true, but it bears mentioning that, even if it was a different kind of “accident”, in the sense that she meant to send that link to her significant other or whoever and accidentally sent it to coworkers, it would still not be a big deal. It’s obviously embarrassing to give your coworkers that kind of window into your personal life, but as long as your kinks don’t cross any legal line (and you’re not using company devices or doing it during work hours), you’re allowed to do whatever you want on your own time, including viewing pornographic material.

  100. anon4this*

    No one is saying she can’t view that sort of stuff on her own time or even judging her for it. But you are certainty minimizing the story by proclaiming if it was just an accidental link posting, basically no consequences cause everyone post the wrong link occasionally. But that’s conveniently leaving out the most important aspect, which is why her boss wrote in. She posted a explicit video with specific fetishes on a workplace forum 200+ coworkers view. Of course, she appears to have not meant to and deleted it quickly, but it doesn’t magically erase the explicit part of what she did (and exposed others to without consent).
    “Most of the comments here seem to be operating under the assumption that the link was posted completely innocently, via a hack or something.”
    I don’t think anyone thinks it was “innocent”, and I don’t think anyone really believes it was a hack (hence AAM’s advice to pretend it could’ve been other “possibilities” without actually saying that…because why? Oh, because we know the truth and the truth in this instance isn’t favorable to the woman the OP wants to keep onboard).
    Maybe it’s just me taking a puritanical stance on this and nobody agrees, which is fine, but I think it’s bit misleading to say this is was just “a link posted accidentally, nothing more”.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’ve misunderstood. No one here thinks it was a hack, etc. We’re pointing out that *she* should take comfort in knowing there are other ways this could have happened. And it *was* accidental, in that she didn’t intend to post that link in a work chat, clearly.

  101. Persephone Underground*

    I would also, after she comes back, keep an eye out for the possibility of *others* sexually harassing *her* using this as an opening. “She started it” just doesn’t fly in the workplace, but I could totally see creepers trying to pull that on her. Especially as she seems so mortified she’s less likely to report if something like that happens.

  102. Stevesie*

    I’ve been sent porn accidentally by customers more than once. The first time because their domain name expired and was bought up by a porn site before they could renew it! There are totally work related excuses you could use to cover this kind of thing! “Sorry guys I clicked on a spam email link…” Or “Oh my gosh I didn’t realize the video that customer sent me would be porn! They must have been hacked…”

  103. Dust Bunny*

    Something similar to this happened at my job a few years ago. It was very definitely an accident; the person who did it had exactly zero history of being in any way inappropriate in the workplace. It was immediately corrected. We all pretended we hadn’t seen it and if anyone brings it up everyone will swear they only faintly, maybe, remember it, if they don’t deny it completely. But we all have to work together and nobody wants to remind this person all time of something they didn’t even mean to do.

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