was my company right to fire my coworker for accidentally sending me a graphic email?

A reader writes:

I have a question about a situation that occurred quite a while ago. How it was handled has always bothered me, but I don’t know if maybe I was too close to the situation to see clearly, so I’d like your take.

I was working on a matter with a colleague, and he replied to an email I’d sent. However, instead of answering my question, he copy/pasted what seemed to be a response that he would regularly send in response to “sex ads” on Craig’s List (though I have no experience in this area, so it’s just my best guess). Think: his measurements, a description about his preferences, etc. Without fetish-shaming, there were some things in there that would make even a fairly sexually liberated person a bit uncomfortable reading. (This individual was also married to a woman and the content of the email was same-sex in nature. I wouldn’t normally mention this but it does have bearing on my question below.)

Anyhow, I was a very junior employee at the time and I was shocked by the email and not sure what to do about it, so I forwarded it to my boss (the head of the legal department) for advice. She took the matter over from there and alerted our information security department as well as her boss and HR.

There was an investigation and it became clear that him copying that text to me was a complete accident. Apparently he felt terrible and he offered to apologize to me directly, but I declined (I was super embarrassed and really just wanted to forget the whole thing).

It was a small company (CEO down the hall, sort of thing), and the CEO asked me directly what I thought they should do and whether I feel more comfortable if he was fired. (In retrospect, that was weird. It almost felt like he wanted me to tell him that I couldn’t go on working with this guy anymore so that he could justify firing him.) I said that I could probably get past it eventually and continue working with the guy, and I didn’t think he should be fired because it was a mistake.

However, after several weeks of back and forth (including this guy basically begging to keep his job), the CEO decided to fire him. The reason he cited was that it was a violation of our information security policy to use a company laptop for the purposes of soliciting sex online (fair enough). However, it also is worth mentioning that our CEO was a very family-oriented, conservative man. So part of me always thought that it was the same-sex and graphic content of the email that really drove the nail into the coffin.

I also have carried around guilt over “getting this guy fired” for all these years. I know I couldn’t have kept the email to myself, and I was too junior to even know what to do in such a situation.

Do you think the company was right to let him go? Should I just let this go?

You’re not to blame for him getting fired.

If the company fired him for using a company laptop to solicit sex … well, it’s reasonable to say you can’t use company laptops for sexual purposes, even in off hours. Personally, with an otherwise good employee, I’d rather handle it via a serious “you cannot use our computers this way” conversation for a first offense, but a lot of companies have strict one-strike-and-you’re-out policies on this and I don’t think that’s wildly unreasonable.

But I’m not sure that’s really what happened here, since your CEO dithered for weeks about what to do, asked you what you thought should happen (and then ignored your input), and gave you the sense he was looking for a justification to take action against this guy.

If the policy is “one strike and you’re out if you use our computers for adult purposes,” then okay. But it sounds like the CEO made a personal call, based on his personal feelings, and that’s not how this should work. And if you’re right that it was the same-sex content that bothered him (as opposed to the graphic content in general), that’s not okay.

It’s a small company so it’s entirely plausible that this had just never come up before, but I wish we knew how he would have handled, for example, a straight dude getting caught looking at straight porn on his company laptop during a business trip and whether that guy would have been fired or just gotten a “Craig, don’t do this again” conversation.

In any case, you didn’t cause this! You were a junior employee who received a graphic email from a colleague, worked in the legal department, and alerted your boss for guidance. That was a reasonable action for you to take. Another option would have been to reply, “Whoa, I don’t think this is what you meant to send” (if you were sure it was a genuine mistake and not an attempt to harass), but you’re not obligated to do that. You get to be shocked when you receive graphic sexual material at work, and you get to decide that handling it is above your pay grade.

You didn’t get him fired.

(As an aside, how do people still not realize that company computers are not the place for their adult activities? Companies can see what you do on their computers! They don’t always care to look, but sometimes they do look. Sometimes they’re looking for reasons that have nothing to do with you. If they find your carefully sorted sex solicitations or your porn collection, that’s going to be a problem. Privacy and separate devices are a good thing.)

{ 223 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Mental Lentil*

    Nope, not your fault at all. He would have eventually made this mistake at some point; it just so happened that he made it with you.

    It’s his own behavior that got him fired.

    Reply
    1. Let's Just Say*

      I agree. I feel bad for the guy and the way he was treated was awful (begging to keep his job while the CEO dithered), but he made a pretty major error in judgment.

      Reply
      1. KayDeeAye*

        And maybe more than one! The email to the OP was a biggie, but so was using that PC for some highly personal activities – and probably on company time at that (because how else could he have that graphic text all ready to go on his clipboard?)

        OP, you’re being a bit too easy on your former coworker, and a lot too hard on yourself.

        Reply
      2. Wintermute*

        I’m not so sure it was that awful, a lot of company structures move slower than that when the cause is greater. There’s a lot of implications. Figure the day he hears it he agrees it’s a big deal. From there it takes a few hours to research the circumstances, and get some basic data, enough you know what you’re looking for when you investigate, a few more for investigation, figure out it’s real, talk to other people about it and loop in his manager, brief his manager and HR if applicable. Schedule a brief call with your lawyer, just to confirm you’re not about to step on a landmine. Draw up a list of must do stuff, maybe a little research about state laws in the process (what time a last check must be paid, etc) and prep payroll. Inform IT and ensure accesses are cut off as he’s being walked out the door, make a list of company property to recover with IT if necessary. Draft your UI forms and pre-write your objection to his unemployment on the grounds of “good cause” firing for willful misconduct– Then after all that you can fire him.

        All the meanwhile you’re still trying to run a successful business and handling other things that are coming up. A little time isn’t unreasonable.

        Reply
        1. Also Poor This Year*

          I agree. I would respect a company less for immediately firing the guy, especially a small one without experience in this department. The CEO’s personal views are entirely irrelevant and I feel like it’s a stretch to say it was a moral issue for him. You can’t solicit sex on company computers!

          Reply
  2. EPLawyer*

    It was not your fault. It was not your fault.

    You even said you thought it was a mistake and you could get past it. You were gracious and professional.

    It was not your fault.

    Who knows why the Boss fired him. For all you know while he was “dithering” more incidents turned up. Or something worse turned up.

    It was not your fault.

    Reply
    1. MissGirl*

      Yes, they could’ve discovered this wasn’t a one time thing and he was actively soliciting sex on a work computer during work hours. You have to expect to be fired over that. I actually think it’s good your CEO did ask you what you thought rather than expect you to be okay with it.

      There’s a flip side to this. I once caught a coworker stealing cash out of the till. I bought his excuse and didn’t say anything (I was young and naive). He was later caught doing the same thing at another store. I felt an immense sense of guilt that I had facilitated his stealing, however inadvertently. I wished I’d said something even it would’ve gotten him fired. We are not responsible for our coworkers bad decisions.

      Reply
      1. Teapot Tía*

        oh god at my very first job (retail) I was told to just ignore the IOU notes in the safe.

        That manager didn’t last very long, but I had absolutely no clue how to handle it. So of course I didn’t

        Reply
        1. allathian*

          My first job was at a chain of smallish convenience stores, most of them between 4,000 and 10,000 sq ft. I first worked two summer vacations and weekends in one store. They bought another chain of small stores and downsized the network, so my original store was closed and I transferred to another one. The store manager at the new store was fired not long afterwards because she stole the money in the safe… She was stupid, because the safeguards were such that there’s no way she wouldn’t have been caught. She was also prosecuted although I don’t know if she got away with a fine or if she had to go to jail.

          Reply
      2. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

        Oooh, thank you for the “flip side” of this. I’d never thought of that. If I hadn’t reported it, and something bad had happened down the road, I’d have felt terrible.

        Reply
        1. MissGirl*

          Yes, I realized after that it wasn’t my call to make any decision. I should’ve told my manager and let him handle the situation.

          Reply
    2. Observer*

      You even said you thought it was a mistake and you could get past it. You were gracious and professional.

      Exactly this.

      For all you know while he was “dithering” more incidents turned up. Or something worse turned up.

      I would say that this is highly likely. Let’s face it – this guy was not being exactly careful and was also almost certainly engaging with some of this stuff on company time, not just on company equipment. Which leads to a whole new set of issues.

      Reply
      1. JessaB*

        Especially since the email was cut and paste. This means he’d used the company computers in the past, to solicit sex whether legally or illegally – also if your boss is a lawyer, that means that they are involved in litigation of some sort, can you imagine the result if during a suit the opposition subpoenas that co worker’s computer? And during discovery this information comes out?

        It was an accident that he sent it to you, a fellow employee, it was not an accident that the email text existed and that he sent it to other people. The only difference is the other people presumably wanted that information.

        Reply
    3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Yes, OP, there may have been have been an investigation.
      AND
      Yes, the boss could have been influenced by homophobia.
      Were you?
      Wait, it doesn’t matter.
      You received a graphic email from a coworker on a work computer. You reported it.
      The company handled it.
      They protected themselves and they protected you.
      I’m sorry dude lost his job, but you did the correct thing.
      The fallout is neither your fault nor your responsibility.

      Reply
    4. Lacey*

      Yes. I’ve been adjacent to investigations into this kind of misconduct and a surprising number of people aren’t sure how to handle it even when it’s obvious that the person has to be let go, so if it was more of a gray area, I think the dithering is entirely unsurprising.

      I’m sure they did want an “easy out” that wouldn’t make them really make the decision. I find that to be the case more often than not in situations that involve some kind of sexual misconduct.

      Reply
    5. AKchic*

      All of this.

      I am assuming that in the process of the investigation, more things turned up. Because it’s never a one-time thing if it looks copy/pasted.

      Did the “conservative family man” have some homophobia? Oh, that is quite the possibility. But I also think that the “conservative family man” would have had a similar reaction had the same-sex aspect been removed because there was a very real sense of “this could happen again and I need to protect my company” combined with “my employee is using company resources in a way I find personally abhorrent and in flagrant opposition to our company rules” (in this scenario I do assume there was a company P&P with even a modicum of digital conduct for work computers outlined in it).

      Feeling guilty for receiving a very inappropriate email isn’t uncommon. Yes, you could have ignored it, but then what? What if he emailed a client on accident the next time and then lost the client? What if he’d accidentally emailed the boss next time and then in the investigation they found out you’d been emailed previously and you ignored it? No, it was better to bring it to the company’s attention and flag it before it became a bigger problem, to cover your own rear.

      Reply
      1. Renata Ricotta*

        I think it’s worth noting that even if there was no policy and procedure document, it’s still completely appropriate for companies to take disciplinary action on something like this. In at-will employment, there’s no requirement that there be a preestablished rule the employee is breaking, especially in a case like this where it is definitely poor judgment to be using a work computer for graphic sexual communications no matter what rules the company thought to put in place ahead of time.

        Reply
        1. MK*

          This isn’t about at-will employment. Employment contracts don’t usually include exhaustive lists of rules, and the same goes for employee handbooks. Having a specific rule that was broken likely makes the process simpler, but people with contracts do get fired for cause, a.k.a. if the employer can show they had a good reason.

          Reply
        2. JessaB*

          Also most P&P documents if they exist have a catchall category to cover things that nobody could expect to happen. Most people can’t cover every single possible infraction and in fact trying to can be countreproductive – If you have a massive list of things, and you leave something out, a rules lawyer type employee could use that against you because obviously if you didn’t want them to DO it, you’d have put it on the list.

          Common sense says that unless the job involves sexual information – a legal brothel, Playboy/Girl Magazine, sex therapists, etc. It should not be dealt with at work.

          Reply
      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        The boss could also have been completely queer-friendly, but thought that a guy who cheats on his wife with craigslist hookups wasn’t trustworthy. Regardless, it’s not your problem.

        Reply
    6. Alice's Rabbit*

      Or this had never come up before, and the boss was dithering while trying to decide what his policy should be going forward. When you encounter something like this for the first time, you have to consider not just the case in front of you, but every potential case in the future. If your boss isn’t terribly decisive on the HR front, it’s not surprising that he dithered.

      Reply
    7. RagingADHD*

      Yeah, Alison’s assumption that this was a one-time incident is just that – an assumption. And an unlikely one, IMO. People don’t go from total compliance with policy and scrupulously professional behavior to sending graphic solicitation emails on work devices in one hop.

      LW said this looked like a “response he would regularly send.” He had it *saved on the device*. This accident was just the mistake that got him caught, it wasn’t a one-time thing.

      LW, you didn’t get him fired. He got himself fired, and you were just the unfortunate bystander.

      Reply
      1. allathian*

        I agree with you. Even if this was the first time he sent a graphic email to a coworker, he’s probably been using his company computer and email for soliciting sex for a while. If he did it at the office, there’s far less risk of his wife finding out than if he did it at home, especially if they share a computer at home and don’t have separate logins.

        It doesn’t really matter if the CEO was conservative or liberal, or if the graphic email was for expressing interest in straight or gay sex, in most functional workplaces using company resources and equipment for borderline legal (or illegal depending on jurisdiction) activities is almost always frowned upon and a cause for termination.

        Reply
    8. Not So NewReader*

      OP, it could be that the conservative family man actually wanted to fire him initially but felt conflicted about slamming his values on to others. So the time lapse could be explained as that was his time spent in looking at laws and talking with others, rather than making an impulsive decision.

      Reply
  3. The Happy Graduate*

    You were absolutely not the cause for him to be fired OP! Yes it was an accident and it’s not something that normally warrants firing over if it’s the only problem, but it sounds like he was a) soliciting sex during work hours and b) on company devices no less – regardless of the type of content that’s bad and like Alison pointed out your course of action was perfectly reasonable especially considering you were junior!

    Definitely you can shed this guilt!

    Reply
  4. Person from the Resume*

    Not your fault at all. If it was a copy and paste error then he was using the company computers to solicit sex then it is he fault. Especially this basically means he was responding to sex ads pretty much right before responding to your email so probably on work time.

    TBH I’d think if the CEO really was a “family-oriented, conservative man” (and not simply pretending to be one while being hypocrite), the same sex aspect was not the tipping point. Arranging meetings for sex with a stranger, online, outside marriage is very not conservative or family-oriented.

    Why was he using his work computer to do so? I’d guess it was to hide the activity from his spouse or because he couldn’t wait to get home to arrange these meetings. Either way also signifies a focus on sex at work instead of work.

    Reply
    1. Geek5508*

      This + 1000.

      I also agree with that other poster above that the CEO likely found more/worse instances of the fired worker’s behavior

      Reply
    2. Observer*

      TBH I’d think if the CEO really was a “family-oriented, conservative man” (and not simply pretending to be one while being hypocrite), the same sex aspect was not the tipping point. Arranging meetings for sex with a stranger, online, outside marriage is very not conservative or family-oriented.

      Very much this.

      Why was he using his work computer to do so? I’d guess it was to hide the activity from his spouse or because he couldn’t wait to get home to arrange these meetings. Either way also signifies a focus on sex at work instead of work.

      Yup.

      Reply
      1. Firecat*

        It’s not liberal and family friendly either. Just because liberals are ok with polyamorous relations, it’s only ok between consenting adults. We take our wedding vows just as seriously I assure you.

        Reply
        1. Observer*

          Yes – hiding this from his wife indicates that this was not an open relationship with a wife who was on board with his activities.

          Reply
        2. allathian*

          Yeah, liberal and family friendly aren’t oxymorons.

          My guess is that he used company devices because he was more worried about his wife finding out than his employer finding out. It’s possible the company had a fairly hands-off IT policy, and if so, he might never have been found out if he hadn’t sent the email to the wrong person. Employers have the right to check on how their equipment is being used, especially in the US, but whether or not all actually do so is another matter.

          Reply
      2. TootsNYC*

        Either way also signifies a focus on sex at work instead of work.
        This is why Ross Perot always said if he discovered an employee was cheating on a spouse, he’d fire them. Less because of the cheating aspect and more because of the effect it would have on the person’s focus.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader*

          And the proof is right here. If he wasn’t so focused on his sex life he would have noticed the error before sending to OP.

          Reply
    3. Lacey*

      Yes, these are very good points. And I think for any CEO it would be troubling that someone was soliciting sex while they should be working – regardless of how conservative or progressive they were.

      Reply
    4. Works in IT*

      Yeah, this is… a very weird accident. The OP sent him a query, and his answer was… copy pasting an explicit message? Even if you assume he was working from home, and was therefore not posting explicit messages on a work computer, who pastes something and then sends it with absolutely no clarifying information (per this email from last week, also attached, see what I told you already, etc) or even proofreading to be sure they highlighted what they meant to highlight? Especially via email and not instant messaging?

      Reply
      1. many bells down*

        I’ve certainly accidentally pasted the wrong thing into an email – copied something earlier and then for whatever reason the thing I meant to copy for the email didn’t save so I paste the first thing.
        But I can’t see how you don’t immediately notice such a completely wrong message. This wasn’t “I pasted Monday’s zoom meeting link into Tuesday’s email”.

        Reply
        1. Firecat*

          Yes same here. I’ve forwarded the wrong email with a reply for another email, pasted a stock response into the wrong new emails or replies – I don’t think we have to assume this was secretly on purpose.

          Reply
          1. pamela voorhees*

            I once was online shopping before a meeting, and when I realized the meeting started in five minutes, copied a link to a hoodie I wanted to buy so I could close the page and find it later. I was nervous about the meeting, though, so when I tried to post my notes without thinking five minutes later, I, you guessed it, sent all my coworkers a link to where they could buy a spooky hoodie from a horror game — and only realized it when one of them jokingly sent back “this doesn’t come in my size.” You’d be amazed at what being in a rush/anxious can do to your critical thinking skills.

            Reply
      2. TootsNYC*

        maybe he tried to copy some business piece of text, and the command-C didn’t take. So when he command-V’d, he got the last thing he’d successfully copied.
        Happens to me all the time.

        It’s just that for him, the most recent time he’d done command-V, he’d been copying his dating-site text.

        Reply
        1. Let's Just Say*

          Yeah, this is a totally understandable error if the copy+paste fails (happens to me all the time, too) and you click send quickly without reviewing the email. Maybe he was distracted or in a rush. The speculation that he did it on purpose is a huge leap that’s not supported by anything else in the letter.

          Reply
          1. MsSolo*

            One of the keyboards in our office is notorious for having a sticky C key, which means you end up pasting the wrong thing constantly. It’s more of an issue in internal chats, where you just hit enter automatically (there was a legitimate work reason I had the URL of Prince Valiant’s opening credits to hand, honest there was, guv’nor!) than emails where you usually have to manually click to send, though.

            Reply
    5. tangerineRose*

      “Especially this basically means he was responding to sex ads pretty much right before responding to your email so probably on work time.” This!

      Reply
    6. JM60*

      TBH I’d think if the CEO really was a “family-oriented, conservative man” (and not simply pretending to be one while being hypocrite), the same sex aspect was not the tipping point.

      His dithering makes me somewhat doubt this. It sounds like he was somewhat on the fence between firing him and reluctantly keeping him with a serious warning. If he is homophobic (and the description of “conservative man” makes that likely), then the same-sex aspect might have been enough to push him to the “automatic fire” side of the fence.

      Keep in mind the litmus test for discrimination isn’t, “Did they have a good/legit reason to fire them,” but rather, “would they have been treated differently if it weren’t for the employee’s [sexuality/gender/race, other protected class].” As a gay man, my “gut” tells me the guy would’ve been more likely to keep his job if he was addressing a woman instead of a man.

      Reply
      1. allathian*

        I can see your point. However, marital status isn’t a protected class in the US and cheating on your spouse isn’t a crime, at least not in most jurisdictions in the West. Using company devices on company time to solicit sex online should have the same consequences regardless of whether the perpetrator is married or single. Employers really have no business dictating the morals of their employees, but firing this guy on the grounds that he solicited sex when he should have been working, and was careless enough to use company devices to do so, is absolutely fine.

        Reply
  5. Observer*

    Of course it’s possible that the homosexual nature of the material was the final nail in the coffin. But I honestly don’t think that the OP is a really reliable narrator in this case. because they also seem to feel pretty strongly that they “got the guy fired”, which is TOTALLY and absolutely NOT the case.

    Given what happened, I don’t think that the company actually had much choice regardless of the issue of homosexuality. The problem here is not just that CW was using his work computer for graphic NSFW activities (and that abbreviation actually does refer to a real reality), but that he was so careless about it. Could you imagine if had made this goof with a CUSTOMER email?! Also, many sites catering to this stuff are rife with malware. That creates a whole additional level of risk for the company. I wonder if part of the whole investigation and timeline included figuring out is this guy was actually visiting other sites.

    To the extent that the Boss’ person feelings played into this I think it’s also worth noting that the guy was married. I can see a boss who is genuinely family oriented feeling like this is just “too much” regardless of gender, and possibly also that it shows a lack of trustworthiness.

    Reply
    1. Elenna*

      Yes – if the guy was fired because the email referenced homosexual acts specifically, then of course that would be wrong (although still not OP’s fault!) but there’s plenty here to reasonably fire the guy over even for someone who is completely suportive of LGBTQ+ people. So I don’t think there’s necessarily a reason to assume the CEO was being a bigot.

      Either way, definitely not OPs fault.

      Reply
      1. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

        This is a fair point. I hadn’t really considered the “cheating on his wife” aspect of what our CEO might have had an issue with. My mind jumped right to homophobia, which may not have been the case at all.

        Reply
        1. allathian*

          That said, with the risk of malware and wasting company time, that would have been sufficient reason to fire him, even if he had been single. You don’t want employees spending all day soliciting sex at work, even if they’re single.

          Marital status is not a protected class in the US and cheating on your spouse isn’t a crime. Simply cheating on your spouse isn’t, and shouldn’t be, grounds for firing someone, if the cheating doesn’t impact the person’s work in any way. It becomes more complicated if they ask or require their coworkers to be complicit in it by covering for them, or if it’s a couple in the office who make others uncomfortable with their PDA. But even in such cases it rarely justifies an immediate firing.

          Reply
          1. Crooked Bird*

            “Marital status is not a protected class in the US and cheating on your spouse isn’t a crime.”

            This is true legally, but if all legal bases are covered, cheating says something about the cheater’s ethics and willingness to lie. If it’s truly impossible to know whether the marriage is actually open, an open mind should be kept, but it’s often perfectly possible to know. Whether it’s grounds for immediate firing, I can’t say (and I am not a manager), but I just want to note that it’s not neutral information about an employee.

            Reply
    2. MCMonkeybean*

      I agree, I certainly don’t want to discount the far-too common discrimination that definitely happens but I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that’s what happened here. I think the time spent deliberating was probably just because the boss had no idea how to handle the situation but ultimately decided that keeping the guy on was too great a liability. This is a reasonable thing to fire someone for in my opinion.

      Reply
  6. CatCat*

    Whoa, OP, definitely not your fault and not something you need to let take up emotional and mental space inside of you. Who on earth knows what else the colleague was doing on his work laptop or during company time that an internal investigation might have revealed that you were not privy to. I really wouldn’t even bounce around thoughts that the CEO made a call based on personal prejudice. It’s just sooooo speculative and there is no way to know everything that may have been going on here.

    Reply
  7. Littorally*

    Echoing everyone else — not your fault at all.

    Sure, there’s an angle where the inquiry means that the CEO was looking to you to make a decision — but there’s also the angle where he was inexpertly trying to suss out whether you were likely to try and push a sexual harassment claim if the guy wasn’t let go.

    The thing is, it’s impossible to say that the CEO would have been more lenient if the guy had been soliciting a woman. This is a situation where firing would absolutely be on the table regardless, and would probably be the most appropriate action regardless. And you also don’t know what else turned up during any investigation done (in that week while the CEO dithered). The only person who knows whether the CEO would have acted differently if the details were different is the CEO himself, and if he would have… that’s on his own conscience.

    Forgive yourself. This is not your burden to carry.

    Reply
    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      all of this.
      OP, you are assuming malice where ineptitude is just as likely, more likely.
      How closely do you think the boss even read it.
      “CW sent a sexually explicit email to OP.”
      Boss: O-O. What, why?
      “apparently he was soliciting a sex partner on his computer and had the info on his clipboard and pasted it into an email which OP received and read.”
      Boss: ok, options.
      “we need to know how upset OP is by this.”
      Boss: on it.

      The boss was awkwardly trying to determine if you would sue or if you would quit.

      Reply
    2. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

      Ohhh, I hadn’t thought that he might be sussing me out to see just how upset I was and whether I’d be pushing a sexual harassment claim if this wasn’t dealt with “to my satisfaction”. This is good insight.

      Reply
    3. Professional_Lurker*

      Yeah, suprised the sexual harassment aspect hasn’t come up more in the discussion here. Getting an explicit email sounds like something that would be the “super-obvious gimme answer” in a HR training quiz. They may very well have dithered because it became clear it wasn’t intentional (I’ll take OP’s word for that), but still. Not Cool. At All.

      Reply
  8. Joan Rivers*

    He did not just 1 but 2 things:
    – he engaged in personal, sexual activity at work
    and
    – he mistakenly emailed it to the wrong place

    Either could get him in trouble and it almost looks self-sabotaging.
    Sending this to the wrong place is worse in a way — the first just goes to his character or personality, but the second goes to his competence.

    Reply
    1. Joan Rivers*

      Is it possible boss discovered a computer trail of previous acts by the guy, and just didn’t mention it when firing him?

      Reply
      1. RegBarclay*

        Or this guy has “accidentally” emailed explicit material to younger coworkers before, who felt bad and didn’t report it at the time?

        Reply
  9. Maggie*

    The only person whose fault it is is the one who solicited sex on his work computer. I don’t think there needs to be a “strike” policy when it comes to that. My 70 page employee handbook doesn’t have any guidelines on soliciting sex at work because its so clearly inappropriate and a fireable offense.

    Reply
    1. Precious Wentletrap*

      “My 70 page employee handbook doesn’t have any guidelines on soliciting sex at work because its so clearly inappropriate and a fireable offense.”

      You’d like to think that, but your HR and legal depts, even if it’s just one person writing “ONE WAY TICKET TO UNEMPLOYMENT CITY,” needs to spell it out on the books.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep, our HR handbook spells it out, and our acceptable use policy for company technology specifically bans accessing pornographic/explicit materials using company assets. (There is an exception for work-related situations. Anyone who’s done document review knows you’re going to run across porn in litigation data at some point.) Accessing with your work computer or the corporate network it can get you fired, sending it to a coworker will get you fired.

        Reply
      2. knitcrazybooknut*

        We once had an employee who kept sleeping at his desk during work hours (not on breaks or lunches). We fired him, and opposed his unemployment benefits. He received benefits because nowhere in the handbook did it say that you couldn’t sleep during work hours. *facepalm*

        Reply
          1. HRBee*

            I wouldn’t doubt it. I once had an unemployment claim granted for someone who continually and repeatedly stole other people’s lunch from the shared refrigerators that we HAD ON CAMERA and unemployment said since it wasn’t in our handbook, the employee had no way of knowing that THEFT was a fireable offense. Another time, unemployment was granted after an employee damaged a wall and shattered a glass door with a forklift and then didn’t report it and lied when asked (again ON CAMERA), and unemployment said our handbook did not state that he had to report the incident. I believe the exact words in each case were “While the company may have made the correct decision to terminate for the business, the claimant was not sufficiently aware that [insert above] could lead to termination.”

            Sometimes unemployment is just crazy.

            Reply
            1. Julianna*

              Eh, as someone who has known a lot of people whose previous companies tried to deny their unemployment claims for completely bs reasons, I would /much/ rather have a system that was too generous. Not saying those examples aren’t ridiculous, but better that than rejecting legitimate claims.

              Reply
              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Yeah too generous is better than not generous enough. After all, even if you’re getting benefits you still don’t have a job.

                Reply
  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Don’t use your work laptop for sex stuff.

    Ever.

    The content is irrelevant.

    Don’t use your work laptop for sex stuff.

    (And I was slightly concerned when I used my work laptop to buy stuff off Amazon even though the IT policy allows me to do that.)

    Reply
    1. Joan Rivers*

      And don’t send emails to the wrong person — especially if there’s anything in them that might be offensive or inappropriate.

      Reply
      1. Observer*

        Well, if you keep that stuff off of your work computer, that keeps you from accidentally sending it to the wrong person.

        Reply
        1. Joan Rivers*

          He could send all kinds of embarrassing emails to the wrong person by mistake, that wouldn’t be “sexual.” Snide comments about someone’s outfit, sent to the person. Or about their comments in a meeting. Or criticism of a client sent to the client.

          Keeping “sexy” content private won’t solve this guy’s sloppiness here. That’s a separate issue.

          Reply
          1. Le Sigh*

            Or just attaching an entirely professional, work-related doc that just wasn’t meant for the eyes of the person it accidentally was sent to.

            Check your “To” lines!

            Reply
    2. Evan Þ.*

      Nitpick (or maybe not): I know a statistician who sometimes analyzes studies involving sexual behavior. I’m sure he’s sent work emails that would trip a whole lot of filters at other companies.

      So… occasionally it is relevant. But you’ll know if you have a job like this.

      Reply
      1. Rachel Greep*

        I work in child welfare. We investigate allegations of sexual and physical abuse, and we’ve had to Google some weird stuff. Even if there is a legitimate reason to look for this information during an investigation, I don’t look up stuff of a sexual nature on my work computer. I don’t want to have to deal with justifying anything if IT flags my activity.

        Reply
        1. Quill*

          I mean, it’s obviously bad. But not 100% disqualifying every sentence, I have seen papers where the word “bone” was not used, it was all about thoracic vertebrae, tibias, etc…

          Reply
          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            Fun fact about that conference! The “bone” thing went viral because it’s hilarious in context, but the bigger problem was the exclusion of the word “Wang,” aka the most common surname in the world. The incident is a prime illustration of the potential for (racial and other types of) bias in automated moderation. (“Johnson” did not make the banned list, apparently.)

            Reply
          2. Please don't fire me*

            I had to review a bunch of websites for my job recently. After the 1st few hours, and the realization I had reviewed several drug sales websites; I notified my boss.

            I did however just look up the blocked websites on my phone instead of dealing with the headache of getting IT to unblock.

            Reply
      2. Jenny*

        My job also occasionally requires viewing normally no-no content (explicit content, online gambling). We report it to our boss first. We also can send requests to our library to do research for us, as they have access to an unrestricted computer that is otherwise disconnected from our systems.

        Reply
    3. The Original K.*

      I don’t even give my personal contacts my work email, unless we need to interact for professional reasons (e.g. someone is referring someone for a job at the other’s employer).

      Reply
    4. LKW*

      I’d amend that to add ” and don’t use your work laptop for stuff that is illegal. ”
      Don’t email your dealer.
      Don’t make plans to sell/buy stolen goods.
      Don’t make threats against people or groups of people.

      Reply
    5. Queer Earthling*

      I’m the exception to your “ever” since I’m an adult blogger. Sex stuff IS my work.

      That said, as I’ve said before: stuff that’s okay for my job is, by definition, almost never okay for yours. If you want to figure out if what you’re doing is appropriate, think, “Is this something that I would do if I had a sexy job?” and if the answer is yes, then don’t do it.

      Reply
  11. Keymaster of Gozer*

    ))) As an aside, how do people still not realize that company computers are not the place for their adult activities?

    Oh the stories I have….decades in corporate IT. I’ve literally seen everything. And every one of those people who were caught said it was an ‘accident’.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      And every one of those people who were caught said it was an ‘accident’.

      Uh Hu. Like Anthony Wiener’s Twitter account was hacked.

      Reply
      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Several accused us in IT of planting the evidence. Why on earth would I want to create more work for myself? Dealing with Network Security and HR every time I find illegal software and torrents of smut on a person’s PC is a real chunk of my time gone!

        (Really hilarious story: one guy filmed smut of himself and still tried to claim we in IT had done it. That was hilarious!)

        Reply
    2. Clisby*

      Once when I worked in IT (I’m retired now) a guy on our team sent a really filthy joke out to everybody on the team (maybe 10 people). I was the only woman, but it definitely wasn’t targeted to me. He almost instantly sent out a groveling apology, that he had sent it to the wrong email list. I replied, “Did you mean to send it to the list with X (the CEO)?” I figured it might put the fear of god in him to check his emails from then on.

      Reply
      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        At my previous company, the boss was a marathon runner and suggested some employees join him for them to run as a team in company colours. All those prepared to give it a try joined a discussion list with his running friends. One female employee joined and was shocked to start receiving very explicit photos and filthy jokes.
        This was the boss’s own list, so she didn’t even try to change anything except drop out of the list and the training sessions.
        All this was pre-metoo, I hope nowadays she would have been able to speak up.

        Reply
    3. Rae*

      It gets even more fun when someone decides to sue for wrongful termination and then the material becomes exhibits in court cases.

      Signed – someone who had to copy and put together the photos sent through a company email address on “National Boob Day”

      Reply
      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’ve been called into a few legal hearings where a person was trying to claim unfair dismissal. It’s an odd thing to explain in accurate, dry, clinical terms the exact nature of what was found in person A’s email account.

        I’m lucky to have a very good poker face. Inside though I was going ‘wtf mate we caught you red handed?!’

        (Did have to have company paid for therapy after one case though. What I saw on that shared drive will haunt me forever. Nobody should ever see that. That staff member was not only fired but currently serving at Her Majesty’s Pleasure)

        Reply
    4. SarahKay*

      I have a friend who worked for a company that developed security and user-tracking for computers. Everyone at that company was told that if they were caught looking at adult sites on a company computer they would be fired, and this would be on two counts:
      1) You’re not allowed to visit adult sites on work computers, and you were caught doing it,
      2) You are too stupid to work for this company that is in the business of developing software to watch what people do on their computers and you still went to an adult site.
      Someone still did it, and was duly fired. Sometimes people just don’t think.

      Reply
      1. Observer*

        2) You are too stupid to work for this company that is in the business of developing software to watch what people do on their computers and you still went to an adult site.

        I love this!

        Reply
      2. All the cats 4 me*

        I feel like “you are too stupid” applies waaayyyy more often than it gets explicitly cited.

        But I have a low tolerance for questions that make me wonder how the person is able to do complicated stuff, like finding their way home after work. /s

        Reply
      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There’s always one who believes that they’re a special case that the rules don’t apply to. Or they reckon IT are joking about being able to see literally everything you do on a computer.

        Reply
    5. MK*

      They do realize that. Most believe they will get away with it because they are so smart (insert hysterical laughter). Some might be getting an extra kick out of the risk factor.

      Reply
      1. caradom*

        The sensible people realise they know very little IT. But if you’re not aware of your own ignorance then there is serious trouble.

        Reply
    6. Traffic_Spiral*

      A lot of cheaters who figure it’s better to risk the boss finding out than their spouse, would be my guess.

      Reply
    7. Red Boxes and Arrows*

      Is this where I get to tell the story of the guy who was *always* looking at soft-core p*rn on his work computer?

      When he was told that the company could see what he was doing, it wasn’t because “IT can access your hard drive and internet history,” it was because he had it up on one of the three monitors in his cube AND WE ALL COULD LITERALLY SEE IT.

      Management gave him the, “Oops, I’m quite certain you didn’t mean to do this at work on company equipment” speech and then he did it again.

      It was during the Great Recession and we saw him on the local news a month or so after he was fired. He was being interviewed as “Older Worker Who Was Let Go Because of Ageism”. He straight-up lied on camera. It was both sad and hilarious.

      Reply
      1. allathian*

        Ouch, that’s awful. And the company’s going to look odd if they release a statement saying “Contrary to what has been said in the press, Mr. Employee was not let go because of his age, but because he accessed porn on his work computer when he should have been working.”

        Reply
    8. NYWeasel*

      My last job became mine because the last guy had spent pretty much 100% of his time downloading and watching porn on his computer. They wouldn’t have fired him just for that—he already had multiple complaints lodging against him from female staff that were ignored—except he didn’t turn it off when the VP came over to ask about a project. The craziest thing is that company literally would never had caught him if he hadn’t been so brazen. IT didn’t care what anyone did, and our projects were so easy, I could do my actual work in 30 minutes and then spend hours online. It’s actually how I found AAM and read through all of the archives!

      Reply
  12. Observer*

    On a separate note, Alison, I take a bit of issue with this:

    Personally, with an otherwise good employee, I’d rather handle it via a serious “you cannot use our computers this way” conversation for a first offense,

    That’s terrible policy. This kind of thing is egregious. This is an automatic firing offense and well run companies for a reason.

    Another option would have been to reply, “Whoa, I don’t think this is what you meant to send” (if you were sure it was a genuine mistake and not an attempt to harass), but you’re not obligated to do that

    Not only was the OP not obligated to do that, it would actually NOT be a good option. This is information that the company has a genuine need to know. The issue IT security policies is not a fig leaf – it’s a real and significant problem. Also, the carelessness presents it’s own problem. Forgetting to bring a pen to meetings level of carelessness is not something the boss needs to know about. Stuff that could open us up to lawsuits / legitimately drive away customers is another whole level of problematic.

    In other words this is not stuff that someone “can” bring to their boss. It’s something that they SHOULD bring to their boss.

    Reply
    1. Murphy*

      I’m not sure why it would be an automatic firing offense. (I’m assuming using the computer to solicit sex, not engaging in sexual activity at work, and where the message was clearly not intended for OP.) I think a “Hey, please keep your work and personal activities separate” when it was merely a mistake would be fine.

      Reply
      1. Observer*

        Nope.

        A lot of the issues have already been covered. It’s a security nightmare and it opens the company to lots of problems. And And it IS sexual activity in the workplace, using work provided tools.

        Reply
    2. Violet Fox*

      Yeah, it’s a major IT security breach, a great way to introduce spyware or ransomware on the work network, and effective shut down or bankrupt a small company. Not to mention keyloggers, back doors, stealing propriety data access to confidential data..

      Sites where people access illegal solicitation tend to be full of nastiness.

      I work in a really liberal place, where it’s actually really hard to get fired, and yeah, this would get you fired with strikes both for sexual harassment and for the IT security issues.

      Honestly, I would also not be surprised if they found a lot more on his work computer, or other IT security issues.

      Reply
      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I doubt that was the only incident. He’s probably been soliciting sex at work for a while.

        That said, company IT also has some responsibility to ensure that employees can’t access porn sites using company devices and that any attempts to do so are automatically logged and flagged.

        Reply
  13. EvilQueenRegina*

    Entirely possible that while they were investigating him over this, other instances of him accessing these sites on the work device came to light – if this happened, this wouldn’t necessarily have been shared with you.

    This time, it went to you, but it could so easily have been to his boss, to someone from an external agency. And even if in the moment you had just quietly gone to him and said you thought he sent you that by mistake…I can think of other ways it could have come out down the line anyway which could still have ended in him being fired anyway and the only difference would have been that you weren’t involved.

    Even if he had been found out to be sending emails of an explicit nature on a work device on work time to his SPOUSE, even that could have ended in some form of disciplinary action.

    As seen on comments here before: you didn’t get this guy fired. He got himself fired.

    Reply
  14. Veryanon*

    I always tell employees who report situations like this: You didn’t get the person fired, their own behavior got them fired. I mean, I’ve worked in HR a long time, and if someone accidentally sent an email like that to me, I would probably have done the same thing that the LW did – report it to my manager and let the company deal with it.

    Reply
  15. C in the Hood*

    I work for the head of a legal department like OP. Knowing how they operate, there was probably some investigation into the coworker’s computer usage, which would contribute to the delay in the coworker being fired.

    NTA.

    Reply
    1. Regular Poster - Anon*

      I conduct investigations and work for the legal department too. I agree that there was likely an investigation, which uncovers more than you should know. I also occasionally ask reporters what their desired outcome is. People usually respond with “no I just want this over with” or “I don’t want to make that decision – I don’t trust her judgement.” It’s the additional information reporters volunteer that helps me determine how to support the reporter.

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP they probably went over his history and found that the email to you was the tip of the iceberg. There was probably a whole lot going on there and they may not have mentioned it to you.

      Reply
      1. caradom*

        Precisely, you can’t necessarily tell employees why a co-worker was fired. Yes she knows he sent the email to her but she won’t know the result of an investigation. We had a lecturer who would regularly take off months every year. Eventually they struck a deal and got her out. We were told she retired. A gossipy manager told me the truth.

        Reply
  16. Jinni*

    When I practiced law – well before discovery became electronic, I was frankly shocked at the amount employees used their personal computers for porn, sex, dating, etc. I didn’t understand the lack of ability to segregate one aspect of their lives from the rest.

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I have lost count of the review team leads in my office complaining about how, just once, they’d like to not have to warn the reviewers that there was adult content in the collection. The things I’ve seen in corporate email collections are incredible.

      Reply
      1. Veryanon*

        Several years back, I was called in to investigate a senior manager at my then-employer. He had taken his work laptop to IT because it had crashed. IT quickly discovered that there was SO MUCH PORN on his WORK laptop that the sheer amount had caused the entire system to crash. This was a person who had a 30+ year career with the employer and was close to retirement. Why anyone would jeopardize their career over this, I still don’t understand. As it turned out, the company chose not to terminate him (which I was completely not okay with, but that’s another whole letter) but his job duties were severely limited and he quietly “retired” about 6 months later.

        Reply
    2. EmmaPoet*

      I once temped at a law firm and my boss told me the computer policy was basically, “IT can see when you download porn, so don’t do it on your work computer, because it will crash, and IT will laugh at you.”

      Reply
  17. Heidi*

    I guess the OP is imagining that if she had not reported the email to her boss, no one would have ever found out about his online activities and he would have maintained gainful employment with no one the wiser. It’s possible. If the OP is asking if this is comparable to one of those “angry lady calling the police for a non-event” scenarios, I would say no. This guy actually did send an inappropriate email, and accident or not, that should not have happened.

    Reply
  18. Kiko*

    Just curious: If the colleague was using his personal property (like his personal smartphone to respond to OP’s email), would that warrant a different response? My industry is becoming increasingly dependent on people’s personal devices, and this sort of thing makes me squeamish.

    Reply
    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I’d wondered about this as well. While a BYOD policy doesn’t make it any more okay to send sexually explicit stuff to a colleague, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to do by accident. That, and there’s a limit to what you can reasonably stop employees from doing with their own devices. This possibility makes this so much messier.

      Reply
    2. Kesnit*

      I had the same thought. When I work from home, I mostly use my work laptop. However, the laptop is sitting on my computer desk in front of the monitor for my PC. I keep my email accounts (work and personal) up on my personal computer, though I use my laptop to actually respond to work items. If this guy was doing the same thing, it would not be hard to make that kind of mistake. (Click on the wrong window.)

      Also, people are assuming this was on work time. He could have been doing it on his lunch break.

      Reply
      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        If he was using his work computer/email address, it doesn’t matter if he was on his lunch break.

        Reply
        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          It matters only in that – if not on his break – he would also have been stealing time from his employer. It’s the old “one more strike”.

          Reply
          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this. But if he had been using his own device and his own email address to solicit sex during his lunch break, that would not have been stealing time from his employer. Of course, then the risk of sending the email to his coworker by mistake would have been much smaller if not non-existent, and there’s no reason why the company should have intervened. Even if he’s cheating on his spouse, that’s neither a crime nor a fireable offense in and of itself, not unless you’re working for a religious organization or some such. And if I’m honest, I wouldn’t want to work for an organization where simple adultery would be a fireable offense.

            Reply
    3. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      It would have to be through the medium of his work email unless he forwarded the email to a personal email account then answered it on a smart device. So no, your company owns your email regardless of what device you access it on.

      Reply
      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        ETA that it doesn’t matter that email is virtual while a company computer is a physical object. They both belong to the company and would be subject to both monitoring and discipline by the company.

        Your personal email on your personal device is a different matter.

        Reply
      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        But in a BYOD scenario, he wouldn’t necessarily be using his work email for soliciting. He could have had the inappropriate text on his clipboard from an earlier activity (surfing the web or responding to personal email before work or during lunch; what could be more wholesome?) and then opened his work email and unintentionally pasted it. In that case, the only crime would be clicking SEND.

        Heh heh… “activity.”

        Reply
    4. caradom*

      I got a work laptop because of COVID it is simpler, the work laptop has everything on it. So when I access online sexual material I use my laptop.

      Reply
  19. HR Exec Popping In*

    If the guy actually did accidently “paste” the content into the email to the OP, that means there is sexually explicit material on his work computer above and beyond the email he sent OP. I would speculate the reason the investigation and outcome took some time is because they were reviewing his computer files. This takes awhile. In my experience, people who are sloppy enough to do something sextually explicit on their computer have a good amount of similar material on there. That is likely why he was fired.

    Reply
  20. Rach*

    My spouse’s coworker literally sent a dick pic to another coworker on purpose (he was drunk) and didn’t get fired. He was put on probation for 6 months (or something similarly ridiculous). Anyway, definitely not the OP’s fault and I question the CEO’s motives.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      I don’t question the CEO’s motives. I question the judgement of the company that allows someone to get away with sending this kind of thing to a coworker.

      Reply
        1. KayDeeAye*

          Yeah – Dick Pic guy should have been fired, like, immediately. So there are, IMO, no lessons here for the OP’s CEO.

          Reply
    2. caradom*

      WTF? He should have been fired. I don’t care what he was high on. It is an act of sexual harassment. This letter is about an accident. The person who did it in your comment wanted to sexual harass someone.

      Reply
  21. Ollie*

    “it sounds like the CEO made a personal call, based on his personal feelings, and that’s not how this should work.”

    This… this is really throwing me.

    I have worked in small startup tech companies for about a decade, and all decisions are made like this. It’s normally more important to stay on the good side of the boss to keep your job, even if that means doing a poor job or not doing right by other people.

    I assumed it was the same everywhere – loyalty to the boss and whatever decisions they make in the moment is main thing to follow. Am I off base?

    Reply
    1. Person from the Resume*

      Yes.

      Personal feeling meaning “I believe homosexuality is a sin” or “sex outside marriage is a sin” should not impact the decision in this situation.

      Doing good work should be more important in keeping your job and being promoted than sucking up to the boss and agreeing with all of his decisions.

      Reply
      1. Arvolin*

        On the other hand, thinking that this guy was willing to deceive his wife to this extent, and so he might do the same to his employer, is reasonable and needs no out-of-work moral judgments. It’s possible that the guy was in an explicitly open marriage and was operating within the rules thereof, but in that case he’d likely do it on his own computer. You don’t have to keep morals out of employment decisions.

        Also, sending sexually explicit material to a co-worker does not constitute doing good work. It could open the company up to an expensive lawsuit, for example. Doing good work for the company means helping the company make significantly more money than they’re paying the worker, without adding major risks.

        Reply
        1. Batgirl*

          That’s an interesting take: that someone who is sneaking around is somewhat reliant on their work device as a method of keeping it off the home devices.

          Reply
        2. caradom*

          I don’t know what marriage has to do with it. I would be fired if I did it, and yes it would take them a few weeks to investigate. Frankly the rule is known by everyone: no sex stuff at work. It says a lot about a person that they can’t manage this.

          Reply
      2. Not So NewReader*

        Unfortunately, OP set themselves up with a question that can never be answered. There is no way to ever know for sure how the boss arrived at their conclusion.
        So with this impossible to answer question, OP has decided to totally wear out their brain asking the unanswerable over and over for years.

        1) This type of question that cannot be answer can become a habitual point to stew over. Yes, worrying can be a habit, but so can revisiting one point over and over with no end in sight.

        2) Generally speaking, it’s fairly normal for people to be fired for a first time offense of this nature. Please allow yourself to just accept that there is a force greater than you here, and this is the One Strike and You’re Out Force.

        3) You may regret reporting it, but I am almost certain that you have (had) cohorts who are grateful you did report it. They have no need to rethink their gratitude, they are glad, period.

        4)OP, this is what a good boss looks like. No means NO. No does not mean “Do it 17 more times and we might do something then.”

        5) Very few sincere people actually want to see someone fired. I suspect you are a sincere person who does not like seeing someone get fired. It’s okay to dislike firings, but reality is that firings can and should happen in some instances.

        6) If you and I worked together, OP, and I received a similar email *I* would have reported it and I would have slept just fine that night. No 2:00 AM guilt pangs here. My rationale would be, “Peach, now *I* have graphic material in MY email and it’s not my fault. I know it’s against the rules and I did not put it there, NOR did I seek out and request such material.” I really don’t want to have to explain months later why I did not report it. I’d feel bad for the person, but I also know this does not represent my work nor my intentions about my workplace.

        Reply
    2. Allonge*

      I only ever worked for large companies or in the public sector and this threw me a bit too, but not for the same reason.

      No, in principle it should not work like that. And for a lot of things in larger places it does not, becasue there are checks and balances and procedures and handbooks and similar, for a lot of things.

      But it’s really difficult to separate personal feelings on stuff like this and a billion other things from 1. experience and 2. knowledge of what is good for a company. E.g. my grandboss thought that people who work from home will not work (he was convinced last year that it is not so), and so he did not allow us to WFH for more than one day a week in the Before Times. There are so many ways that the CEO in the post could have justified it to himself and to the world that it’s not good practice to keep someone like this on! And you have to be really self-conscious about this, especially if you are CEO to a small company where HR or auditors don’t exist, to avoid it.

      And of course loyalty to management is not the only consideration, but an important one everywhere. I can question what my boss decides, but I only have alternatives if what she does is actually illegal or dangerous, or contrary to the Org mission, not if I just disagree.

      Reply
    3. MK*

      That’s… a bit of an odd take. Look, the boss is the boss and what they say goes. That is doubly true in businesses where the boss is the head of the organization (sole owner, founder etc). That doesn’t mean they make all decisions based on personal feelings and values, because their goal is for the business to succeed.

      Reply
      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and if they truly want their business to succeed, they’ll surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are and welcome the occasional dissenting voice without feeling threatened by it. Big bosses who are in it for the ego and demand unquestioning loyalty end up running their businesses to the ground sooner or later, because competent high-achievers will go elsewhere.

        Reply
  22. Gossip Whisperer*

    A CEO asking you what you think should happen to the guy smacks of small business “we’ve never had this happen before” mentality for sure. Or maybe even a, “I’ve never been a CEO before what do I do.” Come on.

    The OP has no reason at all to feel guilty for dude losing his job. Why do people do this? What is it about “this laptop/desk/chair/lamp” is company property and all…. (Don’t answer that).

    My husband watched a coworker get handcuffed at his desk and hauled off by law enforcement because they traced the sexting with a minor he was doing to his work computer. At work. And he worked in IT. This guy worked on all computers at the job, fixed them, repaired, installed, allthethings. I was sickened when I heard this. I asked another of my husband’s coworkers if anyone knew. Only the decoy law enforcement detective he interacted with.

    I always ask when I hear stories like this, “How did they think this was going to end.”

    Reply
  23. Yikes*

    On the subject of “Your company can see everything even if they never check” – hoo boy, through a completely unrelated, tedious, boring task I was doing for IT I ended up seeing several email inboxes. I was making it a point not to even look at the emails, but when one account ended up being full of sollicitations from a very questionable “dating” app certain words just can’t not catch the eye…. It happens that this person had recently left the company and the account just hadn’t been shut yet, so there wasn’t any action to take regardless, but it lead to a very uncomfortable few minutes with the head of IT. I don’t know what happened from there, but yiiiiiikes don’t use your work email for that!

    Reply
  24. TootsNYC*

    asked you what you thought should happen (and then ignored your input),

    I think this isn’t fair.
    Just because you ask someone for their input doesn’t mean you are required to abide by it.
    In fact, our OP dithered, and said they’d probably be able to get past it.
    The CEO was entitled to take that dithering into consideration and to give it more weight than the “I don’t think he should be fired” comment.
    If the OP had said, “Oh, it’s no biggie, I don’t really care, sure I can still work with him. Poor guy, he must be really embarrassed,” the decision might actually have come out differently.

    The CEO had two elements to consider from that convo w/ the OP: Their discomfort, and their words about not firing him.

    Reply
    1. Willis*

      Yeah, I agree. I’d put more weight on the well-being of an employee who was accidentally sent a sexual email than the coworker who sent it. If they’d be uncomfortable working with the guy for some period of time, I’d take that into account regardless of whether they said they thought the guy should be fired. While I don’t think the CEO should have drug his feet on it for several weeks, this doesn’t sound like it was handled that unusually to me, especially for a small place that didn’t have a policy already in place.

      Reply
    2. Roci*

      Agreed. “I will probably someday be OK with it” is not encouraging to hear from a victim of sexual harassment. I think it’s OK to take a harder line on perpetrators like this, rather than take any inkling of the victim being OK with it and deciding to drop the whole thing. Victims are often worried about retaliation or “getting someone fired” as OP was; doesn’t mean the dude shouldn’t be fired!

      Reply
    3. allathian*

      I don’t think the delay was necessarily due to dithering on the CEO’s part. No doubt they took a look at the guy’s email and found more messages with the same kind of content and decided to fire him.

      Reply
    4. caradom*

      Not really. The chances there is a history of this is high. It’s like saying someone punched someone. Why would you ever assume they hadn’t punched someone before? That’s why I have a strict policy when it comes to violence.

      Reply
    5. MCMonkeybean*

      Yeah, I think they probably asked because if the OP had said “oh my gosh I’m horrified and I feel harassed and I could not possibly ever work with that man again” then it would have been a much easier call for him to fire the guy. But that doesn’t mean that they *shouldn’t* fire him just because the OP didn’t ask for it. There are a lot of other things to consider beyond just the impact to the OP.

      Reply
  25. Laurelma01*

    Years ago I was the admin for a remote office; say about 15 employees of a large corporation. I served as the IT contact person. I was getting quite a few calls about how slow the server was being one day. I called IT; and they found 4 people were streaming music & videos alive at that time. Not sure if that played an issue or that it just got flagged. Turned out one of our managers (one of the more problematic ones) had a huge music library on his computer and the server. I think IT just swiped the stuff that wasn’t work related on their computers & the server, and locked their access to streaming services. I know the Head of IT called each of them (two were managers).

    I was in the dog house with them. They took it as tattling on them. Commonsense folks.

    Reply
  26. Student Affairs Sally*

    It’s entirely possible this guy has his work email on his personal phone (I do, as do most of my colleagues in this job and my previous job), so there’s no reason to automatically assume that he was using work equipment or even work time for sexual content. I have made copy-paste errors on my phone more than once (never anything that graphic, and I always caught it before hitting send). Obviously this guy is responsible for sending something so inappropriate to a colleague, and I don’t think firing is necessarily the wrong response there even if OP was fine to continue working with him. But I probably would have gone with Alison’s response of giving a very stern warning and maybe keeping a closer eye on this employee’s output and online activity going forward, since it was clearly an accident and may not have involved work equipment at all.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      It’s entirely possible this guy has his work email on his personal phone (I do, as do most of my colleagues in this job and my previous job), so there’s no reason to automatically assume that he was using work equipment or even work time for sexual content.

      No, he was using his company laptop – that was the official reason for firing him, in fact.

      Reply
        1. KayDeeAye*

          But all these years later, what’s the point in speculating? The coworker did at least two things very, very wrong (sending that email and using his company laptop in this way), and probably did a third very wrong thing, too, which was using the laptop for this on company time (because how else could that text have been on his clipboard?). So the CEO had plenty of grounds for firing him. Maybe he had other motivations, too, but maybe not. In any case, it sounds to me as though the firing was not unjust – and what’s definite is that the OP did nothing wrong and needs to quit tormenting his/herself.

          Reply
        2. fhqwhgads*

          The worst case scenario then is the CEO made the right call for the wrong reason, because his stated reason is a very logical and reasonable one. So if his stated reason isn’t what really made him do it, well, I’d posit it doesn’t actually matter since the valid reason was sitting right there and true.

          Reply
      1. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

        Yes, from what I remember, during the investigation, it was proven that it had been done on company equipment. Either his phone or his laptop (I can’t remember) but both of which were company issued.

        Reply
        1. Observer*

          That’s a strong indicator that the time frame was not just about the CEO “dithering” but genuinely trying to make sure he had sound information. And I’d be willing to bet that it turned up more than just your one email.

          Reply
          1. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

            It’s certainly possible, and they would not have shared more detail than necessary with me. (My boss headed the investigation and she was very close-lipped about it compared to her normal way of operating with me – which was basically to tell me anything that she thought I could learn from.)

            Reply
    2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Work email is considered work equipment – the law doesn’t make such a distinction between physical (laptop) and virtual (email, cloud) company property.

      Reply
  27. TootsNYC*

    I often feel that it’s arrogant and disrespectful to the manager/employer to assume that you “got someone fired.”
    It takes away their agency. It indicates that you think YOU should or do have all the power in this situation, and that ONLY you were a part of the decision.

    I’ve been a hiring-and-firing boss. I have occasionally let someone go (didn’t have to directly fire them, but I stopped regularly hiring them as a freelancer) because of things my other staffers told me about them. I’d be insulted beyond words if those staffers said, “I didn’t mean to get him fired.”
    What am I, chopped liver? I’m the boss. I get to decide if someone’s errors/mistakes are important enough, and I am the one who decided to fire them, NOT YOU.

    So that’s another way to look at it. You don’t get to tell the boss what to do, so you don’t get to tell them what NOT to do.

    Reply
    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It takes away their agency. It indicates that you think YOU should or do have all the power in this situation, and that ONLY you were a part of the decision.

      I feel it’s the other way; by setting the ball in motion to get the guy fired, the employee feels they’ve usurped your agency to have done what wouldn’t have otherwise been done (the firing).

      I see your side of it, too, just not as clear-cut.

      Reply
    2. Ryn*

      This is a weirdly aggressive and antagonistic reading of this letter. I don’t think someone being concerned about how their actions affected others is necessarily driven from ego or narcissism. That said, if *your* ego is so fragile that one of your employees feeling concerned that their actions kicked off the process of someone else’s termination would insult you do such a degree, you might want to spend some time thinking on why that is.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think that the aggressive response here is appropriate to some degree. OP’s thoughts are caught in an endless loop. Toots gave that loop a good hard nudge to stop the looping.

        I do agree with Toots’ overarching idea here. When you reported it, OP, the matter was no longer in your hands. I don’t think you would say, “My boss was a liberal single person and they fired my cohort so I am okay with it all.” Yeah, I can see you nodding, it kind of proves that this actually is not all about the boss being conservative, right?

        Your coworker found out that they should not have sexplicit materials on their computer.
        And you found out that when you report things it does get given the serious concern it should be given.

        You both had a learning experience. You had the easier of the two learning experiences.

        Reply
      2. Boof*

        I don’t think it’s weirdly aggressive, it’s pointing out the person who fired them are the ones who fired them, and it’s not under the control of the people who raised the issues but didn’t actually make that decision! LW can feel guilt free about that.

        Reply
  28. Blackcat*

    Two weeks into my first job, I got a text from my boss:
    “I could really use some lovin tonight”
    I. Was. Mortified.
    I replied, “I don’t think this is for me?”
    He replied, “I am so sorry my wife has your same first name and I thought I was texting her.”
    30 seconds later “Again, I’m so sorry.”
    30 seconds later, “I have changed the way I store your name in my phone so it should never happen again. Again, I’m so sorry.”
    Me, 5 minutes later, “It’s okay, mistaken texts happen!”
    One day later, I got an email from our sole HR person,

    We never spoke of it again and did have a perfectly fine work relationship. And I do, indeed, have the same name as his wife. He had texted me recently warning me about a bad accident on the route he and I both took to work.
    I do think that mistakes happen. But to me, there’s a big difference between a personal phone and work computer.

    Reply
    1. Maggie*

      It sounds like he handled it well though, even turning himself into HR! Also thats pretty different than trying to solicit a prostitute on your work computer!

      Reply
      1. Blackcat*

        Eh, texting your brand new 22 year old female employee to ask for some “lovin” is pretty bad, particularly when you’re in your mid 40s.
        It felt awful! I then knew that my boss sexts with his wife… badly. HE now knew that I knew that he sexts with his wife. During work hours, at that!

        HR was totally polite just like, Hey, we know about the text, he’s very, very sorry. We can mediate a conversation if necessary.
        I think my response was something to the effect of, I really think we’d all rather put this behind us, so I’m going to pretend it never happened.
        Which I did. It was still awkward, though.

        Reply
    2. caradom*

      I have cognitive deficits so unfortunately this happens a lot. I once sent my prudish sister a sexual message not meant for her. Obviously this has not happened at work but last year I confused 2 students, twice!

      Reply
  29. DD*

    Where does watching Bridgerton/ Normal People (after work) on my work laptop fall?

    I kind of assumed Netflix/Hulu =ok but now I’m not sure. FWIW, I don’t think my company would have significant issues with casual use of work laptops generally— they expressly said we could use company video software to keep up with friends and family during the pandemic.

    Reply
    1. Person from the Resume*

      I would not do that. I limit my work surfing to advice columns, news sites, wikipedia, and google basically.

      … but use of my work laptop to stream netflix or hulu is not authorized.

      Are you just using the laptop or are you streaming through the work VPN/network? There’s a difference there too.

      I don’t really do anything personal on my work computer except kill time during the day with the aforementioned kind of safe sites.

      Reply
  30. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

    Hi Everyone – thanks so much for the comments. Many of you have reiterated that he’s the one who got himself fired, and logically, I know that. It helps to have received this support and I will work on releasing the guilt I’ve felt about this situation!!

    To Alison’s question about porn – there were employees who were found to have viewed porn while working and the official practice at the time was to give them one warning and terminate for a second offense. So there was some precedent for how to deal with the situation, though not exactly the same set of facts.

    Others have commented about the fact that it may not have been homophobia at play in the CEO’s decision, and in hindsight, that may be the case. It is quite possible that it was a bunch of different factors – the inappropriate email to a colleague PLUS the use of company resources/time to solicit sex PLUS the graphic sex acts described PLUS the fact that he was cheating on his wife PLUS the “what-ifs” like what if this had gone to a client, or something. Maybe homophobia was part of it, maybe not.

    I still don’t really agree with the decision – like Alison, I would have probably handled it with a stern warning and conversation first. But as another poster has mentioned, it wasn’t my decision to make.

    Reply
    1. miro*

      I think a key difference between this situation and people looking at porn on their computers is that he was sending it to someone else (nonconsensually, if accidentally). That is/could be sexual harassment–you don’t seem to view it that way, but someone else reasonably might. So often, harassers will try to excuse behavior like this by claiming it’s an accident. In this case, I’ll take your word that it probably really was an accident, but the overall situation seems to me like a pretty extreme one, over and above someone watching porn individually.

      Also, as others have noted, sending something like this to a client or other external person is a whole other level of fuckup and I can see how a company might view that as different and riskier than watching porn at work.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah I have my doubts as to whether or not it was really an accident. I would view it as sexual harassment if it happened to me.

        Reply
      2. allathian*

        Yeah, this is a fair point. Although if I’m completely honest, as a heterosexual woman, if a male coworker sent me a message with the intent of soliciting sex from another guy, I doubt I’d see it as sexual harassment. It would undoubtedly make me feel uncomfortable and I’d definitely report it, but it wouldn’t affect me in the same way as a message that was intended for another woman would. It’s far easier for me to accept that this solicitation of gay sex was sent to the OP’s email by accident than if the intended recipient of the email had been a woman. It’s also true that you don’t have to be the intended victim to feel harassed, but I’m also a bit uncomfortable with the notion that some behaviors are automatically classed as harassment whether or not the “victim” feels it is harassment.

        In any case, sending that email was unacceptable, using work-issued devices for soliciting sex on company time was unacceptable, and getting fired was a justified consequence of both. Just because the coworker claims he sent the email by accident, which I’m inclined to believe in this case, doesn’t mean that he should get away with it. Some accidents are serious enough to be fireable offences on their own, and this I feel is one such. I’m not questioning the guy’s morals, but I certainly am questioning his work ethic.

        The fact that he’s married and cheating on his spouse is to me irrelevant in this case. The fact that he’s looking for gay sex while married to a woman is equally irrelevant. Employers shouldn’t police their employees’ morals as long as the cheating happens on the employee’s own time and doesn’t involve their coworkers. There may be some exceptions to this in particularly sensitive jobs in positions where the employee might be open to blackmail, but I definitely think that in most cases, it’s none of the employer’s business.

        Reply
        1. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

          Yes, I don’t think I mentioned it before but I am a heterosexual woman. I did not view it as harassment, though I can understand how someone else might have. And I genuinely believed (and still do believe) it was an accident.

          And I also agree that employers should not police the morals of their employees – for me (if it had been up to me, of course :)), it would have been the “on company time/on company equipment” factor that potentially warranted a firing. I say “potentially” because if it had been first offense (and others have pointed out that it may not have been and I wouldn’t have known), I would have given a stern warning as Alison suggests.

          Reply
        2. caradom*

          ‘but it wouldn’t affect me in the same way as a message that was intended for another woman would’

          That is weird sexual predators don’t single out just females. Loads of sexual predators target boys and men. I’m also very very uncomfortable with you tying it to heterosexuality. Plenty of bisexual and homosexual people out there, and that doesn’t cover the full spectrum of gender identity or sexuality.

          Reply
          1. Kit*

            All of that is true, but irrelevant – the point was that as a woman, it is more likely to perceive a message as having been sent in error if the intended recipient is referred to explicitly as a man.

            It’s a bit like the variety of voicemails I get – some are explicitly addressing me, and I need to use my discretion to decide whether they’re spam. Others are addressed to Louis, or Kenneth, or some other name that is not mine and is not in fact the name of anyone I’m even connected to, and it doesn’t take much discretion to realize that they’re not intended for me.

            Likewise, I suspect that OP didn’t perceive this as attempted harassment because she clearly did not meet the description, and so ‘this was not meant for me’ was a simpler conclusion to arrive at.

            Reply
    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I wonder if there’s a chance that your complaint was actually the second strike against him; you may not have been privy to IT having to remove malware from his computer that came from visiting a pornographic site six months before you received the email (or another similar scenario). Regardless, I’m glad you feel like you can release this guilt now!

      Reply
    3. Observer*

      Don’t bet on it being the first time something like that happened. Certainly it is extremely likely that they found more than you know about. *I* would be willing to be that they DI in fact find a lot more.

      After we do know for certain that he was more than just watching porn at work and using his work laptop to do it. We know that he was actually using his work email to solicit sex. He was being stupid and careless about the issue. That’s bad enough on it’s own. If they did find anything else, then it’s just too risky.

      Reply
    4. Wintermute*

      The only thing that strikes me is how tight-lipped your normally open-book boss was about it. That screams to me that when this woodpile was kicked, a whole lot more fell out.

      Reply
      1. caradom*

        Eh? Bosses can’t tell employees stuff about other employees. We’re not even told if someone is off sick! Only the people handling their work load are told and they are not told the reason why. If you think bosses can talk about this sort of stuff to employees I am flabbergasted!

        Reply
    5. Not So NewReader*

      You can disagree with a decision but the default answer does not become, “I disagree therefore it’s my fault.”

      We can’t protect people from themselves. (They usually won’t let us.)

      Reply
      1. caradom*

        They can disagree as much as they like but I’ve never seen one case where someone won a lawsuit because they were fired for this.

        Reply
  31. Sinister Serina*

    Definitely not your fault. It does remind me of a situation at my old company where there was a file on the network taking up a lot of memory-enough that our IT guy noticed it. IT guy was based on the East coast of the USA, file belonged to a colleague in an office in SE Asia-who had named it “John’s Porn”. And it had movies/images/you name it. Yeah, he got fired. Who is dumb enough to give their first name along with “porn”? And save it on the network? If he had saved it to his local/personal location, no one would have noticed!

    Reply
    1. Jennifer*

      I don’t mean to laugh but seriously? Did he have another folder labeled “my plan to rob a bank on February 23rd”?

      Reply
  32. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I think the only thing that was done wrong was asking OP whether or not the employee who made the mistake should be fired. The employee’s supervisor? Maybe. But I think the employee should just be judged against the rules impartially; otherwise, the door is opened to accusations of favoritism (including racism, sexism, faith-based discrimination, heteronormative discrimination, etc).

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      I think that knowing how the victim feels can be a useful data point. Ultimately, it’s clear that the employer was not trying to pressure the OP into waving it away for any of the myriad excuses that so often come up.

      Reply
    2. SimplyTheBest*

      I don’t think it was wrong of them to ask. When an unprecedented situation like this happens, I think it can make sense to ask the victim what they think. As you can see from some comments above, there are people who would view this as sexual harassment, full stop, regardless of it being an accident. So having a conversation is probably a good thing. The issue, as I see it, is not then following up on the conversation when they decided to go in a different direction, even if just to say, we took your comments into consideration, but during our investigation found further information to warrant stronger action.

      Reply
    3. caradom*

      Yes that was unprofessional. They needed to ask her about what happened and how she felt. They were also right to ask her if she could work with him. But they shouldn’t have asked her if they should fire him. But honestly, most companies are atrocious. In my workplace you go through training when you become management. Not perfect (one manager lived for gossip) but better than most.

      Reply
  33. Bob*

    Not your fault.
    You are not obligated to help someone bury their skeletons.

    His action met consequences. Whether or not the are appropriate is between him, the employer and the law. I will assume that in your location the law allows employers to terminate employees for this kind of thing. If it does not then he can use the courts to pursue redress.

    You sound a lot like there is survivor guilt here. But you did not seduce him into committing this act. You only protected yourself by doing the right thing.

    Reply
  34. WMM*

    There have been so very, very many instances of ‘it was an accident’ being used to cover up actual sexual harassment that I could easily see a company deciding that something like this was a blanket fire-able offense. Yes, accidents happen, and yes, people claim accidents when they weren’t actual accidents. It is a complicated situation, and I can see how a company would decide warnings or no warnings before firing for this type of situation, and that should be consistent across the company and not just what the CEO is and isn’t understanding about regarding other people’s sexuality.

    What I don’t understand is when it is swept under the rug even when it is a pattern (not at all applicable in this case, of course).

    Reply
  35. Georgina Fredrika*

    at my first job there was an employee who, upset that he didn’t get a promotion and someone else did, deleted THOUSANDS of ads he had control over. And was constantly getting in trouble for watching Youtube all day. And then asked out a new employee on her first day and made a weird, sexual innuendo joke.

    They wanted to fire him but they threatened to sue so they had him sign this agreement thing of behaviors he’d follow while on probation… and one was not going on Youtube.

    They correctly guessed that he would, in fact, go on Youtube, so a few weeks later they go in, check his computer logs, and then fire him.

    I wonder if something like that happened here – final warning type deal and he just kept up the behavior ? maybe.

    Reply
  36. Jennifer*

    Yes, I can imagine feeling unnerved because you thought the message was actually meant for you. If you were new and knew nothing about this person’s reputation, how were you to know it was just an accident?

    And also people, listen to Alison. Keep sexytime stuff off your work devices and I’d add keep work stuff off your personal devices. No good can come of either.

    Reply
  37. TimeTravlR*

    Someone at work once sent me an attachment of sex toy. An actual picture of one! I was pretty shocked as I have never met this person. We share the same last name and I suspect he meant to send it to himself or something. I referred it to our Security department and never heard another thing about it. It was pretty off putting at the time!

    Reply
  38. L6orac6*

    I like how people always claim it’s an accident and their first time they’ve done something like this. I’m sure it wasn’t and isn’t. Along with other commenters, they probably found stuff on his computer. You should be happy both supervisor and boss had your back.

    Reply
  39. Batgirl*

    OP, I think you may be hung up on some natural and reasonable weirdness which can happen when you’re close to, but powerless over, a firing.
    It was probably a really uncomfortable thing to receive but you probably had no thoughts that someone would get fired; more that the mistake would be corrected so it wouldn’t happen again. After that you don’t actually know what happened, or what was discovered and this blind spot where you only see your part can make you feel like you definitely got someone fired, and you start to worry that it was for the innocuous details like being gay or into kink and you’re a bad ally or a prude….no.
    I had a colleague, Roz, come to me with concerns about another colleague, Zelda who had more capital than either of us. It was a reportable offense Zelda had committed, but not fireable. I encouraged Roz and said I would back her with something I too had witnessed. I was shocked when Roz herself was fired! She had a temporary contract and they didn’t want to renew it. Suddenly on a Friday afternoon. I feared she’d been sacrificed to protect the popular person and I felt stupid that I’d led Roz into such a risky situation. But once I let go of the conspiracy theory and paranoia I realised that Roz had done some completely unrelated and questionable things judgement wise and I can’t possibly know what managers were thinking; they weren’t likely to tell me.

    Reply
    1. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

      You hit the nail on the head. I genuinely didn’t think he would get fired when I reported it (though I was so flustered, I wasn’t thinking clearly anyhow). AND if he was fired for being gay or into kink, I want no part of that.

      Reply
      1. caradom*

        Hi OP, one clear work rule no can deny is you don’t solicit sex at work using the resources of work. Even worse he accidentally sent it to you when it could have been someone much more damaging. Every person accepts if you don’t get fired you are a very very lucky person.

        The fact of the matter is the chances are higher that this is not a one off than the chances of it being a one off. Forget about it and think of it as a learning opportunity (i.e., don’t act unprofessional). No point thinking about it, he has learnt a lesson: don’t break one of the worst rules in the professional world.

        Reply
  40. QuinleyThorne*

    This happened with a professor I had in college: He had sent an email to everyone in our class through Blackboard intending to remind us about an assignment that was supposed to be discussed in class the next day. I guess he got his windows mixed up or something, because the email he sent to the class was a…thank you? I guess? to a couple he and his wife hooked up with over the weekend. The raunchy stuff was in the body of the email, but the subject line was clearly about the assignment, so almost* everyone who got the email checked it. He did the right thing and went to his supervisor immediately to let them know what happened, and apologized profusely to the class. Everyone in the class was really understanding and recognized that is was a mistake and not done with any malicious intent (and were in the same boat as you were, with wanting to move past it and pretend it never happened), so things continued as normal for the rest of the semester… Until the end of our final exam, when he announced he was being laid off. It was unfortunate, because outside of that one incident, he was a great professor, well-liked by students, and was up for tenure too–but my guess is that incident removed him from further consideration.

    *I say “almost everyone checked it” because, well…I didn’t and–to my knowledge–was the only one who didn’t. I’d done the assignment in question already, so when I saw the subject heading I just deleted the email. On top of that, I was really late to class the next day, so I walked in to my professor telling the class about how he and his wife were swingers with no context for it, and everyone else was too embarrassed to fill me in on what was happening. I didn’t find out exactly what went down until we were doing professor evaluations and someone suggested that in the comments the class should put “writes great emails,” and I said I didn’t get it.

    Reply
  41. Nicole*

    I’m saying this in response to the “how else could this possibly have happened” comments, not saying that the employee didn’t do something wrong. The end result of sending an inappropriate e-mail was the same, however he got there. But there are at least two other ways I can think off offhand that clipboard content from a personal device would make it into a work e-mail:
    1. As discussed above, work e-mail on your personal phone, very common.
    2. Wireless keyboards. Some models allow you to copy and paste between multiple devices. If he used a shared keyboard between work and personal devices, this could happen. I have one that I use for both my personal devices and my work devices, and it can automatically switch between devices based on which one it thinks you’re using at the time. I had to turn that function off after it kept switching to a personal device that was nearby while I was trying to work, but I could totally see a scenario like what’s described above being caused by careless use of a shared keyboard.

    Reply
  42. LGC*

    Okay, I’m…a little torn by this. Not by LW’s actions, but by the context – a few years ago (at least back when Craigslist had personals, so pre-FOSTA/SESTA, I think), it would have been perfectly legal to fire people for engaging in same-sex relationships. And it would have been even more accepted than it is now. So I’m not quite as willing to say it was justified – what if he was writing to a woman that wasn’t his spouse instead of a man that wasn’t his spouse?

    But on the other hand, LW, there are so many unknowns, and…like, I agree that with the information you provided, it sounds a bit heavy-handed. (We’ve gotten a couple of letters about faux pas of that nature – I think one LW accidentally shared hardcore porn during a meeting?) But also, don’t use your work computer to send nudes (or descriptions of your genitalia and your fetishes, as it were). And that might have not been the worst of it, or the only instance.

    (And also, if he were an – *ahem* – ~*~accountant~*~ as they say on TikTok, then you really get into trouble, because then you’re using company property to run a side business.)

    Reply
    1. allathian*

      I’m so glad things have improved for a sizable minority with equal marriage legislation and other legislation to protect the rights of LGBT+ folks in the workplace.

      Whether he was cheating on his spouse with a man or a woman is to me irrelevant (easy for me to say as a cishet woman, I suppose). The fact that he was looking to cheat on his wife is equally irrelevant, because employers shouldn’t police the morals of their employees. Just the fact that he used company tools on company time to solicit sex was enough to get him fired. The fact that he sent an email to an employee who reported it simply meant that he got caught. No doubt they found other messages when they checked his account.

      Reply
      1. Oh Hi, it's me, the OP!*

        Just want to clarify that I am in a country where, even at the time this happened, it would not have been legal to fire someone for a same-sex relationship.

        Reply
    2. caradom*

      You’re creating a situation that does not exist. He was sexually soliciting at work and if that is not bad enough he sent a very sexually charged email to a colleague describing his penis and sexual acts. It’s way beyond a random email.

      It has nothing to do with anything else, it is simply the OP over reaching. It’s like me doing it and whining it is racism! We all know this rule so it is not in any way shape or form ambiguous.

      Reply
  43. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    It’s my understanding that that type of email can count as sexual harassment, in the same way that lewd office talk can also be considered harassment toward the people around them. The idea is that intent doesn’t matter. People have the right to work without anticipating that kind of environment, and the “edgy” ones don’t have the right to set their own preferred tone in the workplace. I’ve reported coworkers for stuff like that and they were all fired eventually. I don’t deal with that crap, and I’m not responsible for coddling people who are stupid enough to think that I will. OP perhaps should not assume that her experience was the first offense.

    Reply
    1. caradom*

      Sexual harassment and the risk of sexual assault is not ‘edgy’ (but I don know your post is not suggesting that, I just wanted to expand) . Someone who insists on talking about sex is going to be a predator in some way, shape or form. People get off on it. It’s why a lot of sexual harassment outside consists of someone leering at you to the point where they are panting like a dog. They walk around whilst you try to look away so you can notice them because they get off on it.

      Reply
    2. Cheshire Cat*

      Yes to this. You don’t know for sure that it was an accident, or that it was the guy’s first offense. For all you know, he made a habit of “accidentally” sending similar emails to junior employees.

      Reply
  44. Anonymous for thi*

    You are nit to blame at all. I was a casual employee at an older living facility. Our elderly (and preacher-wife) receptionist was at lunch and security was covering her desk as always. The fire alarm went off so I took the desk while he responded to the fire. I unlocked the computer to start posting the emergency evacuation notices and was greeted with a close-up photo of a woman’s “private parts” filling the entire screen. His Craig’s list “date” for that evening had emailed her “qualifications” to him. I recoiled from the screen in shock and bumped into the Executive Director (I hadn’t heard him coming over the alarms). Security was fired as soon as the alarm was cleared. He was literally sitting in the driveway behind the fire trucks. I believe the saying is play stupid games, win stupid prizes. And playing with sex on a company computer is a very stupid game. Side note – the poor ED (30 ish married cis male) couldn’t look at me (a 45 yo married cis female) without blushing for months.

    Reply
  45. ManagerKS*

    Its defientatly not your fault!

    I don’t agree with Allison’s assertion that “it sounds like the boss made a personal decision”, which sounds as that comment is based mainly on the OP’s personal perspective that the CEO was a ‘conservative, family man’.

    Considering this was a small company, the CEO may have just been unsure as what to do and didn’t want to make a rash/quick call, and there may have been other issues in play with this employee. As Allison always says, employees are not always privy to issues of other employees and there may have been more going on that the OP wasn’t aware of.

    Unpopular opinion – As much as I love this site, and it has helped me in my management a great deal, it feels the ‘boss’ is 90% at fault, when in reality that conclusion is based on the perspective of 1 (usually) bias party. It would be greatly helpful if more responses could encompass both sides in perspective.

    Reply
  46. caradom*

    Everyone knows what happens if you use a work computer and work time to access sexual materials. It says a lot that these people lack so much control they can’t wait until they get home or simply use a personal device!

    Reply
  47. Don*

    Actually to be technical, people need to understand that using a company computer for ANYTHING Personal
    is off limits. Most do e.g. general email. And companies can & do track it. You may break the rule for something awful as in this posting, or you may break it for the sheer amount of it your doing.
    In this day & age you have a phone you can use for personal or even bring in your own laptop (unless that’s off limits too.
    Outside of porn people run side deals, side businesses, and such.
    In most cases the company knows there’s personal stuff flying around, just as it is on company phones. And in most cases they rely on people to self monitor & be reasonable. In this case the guy crossed the line . The odd thing is the dithering.

    Reply

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