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I started working at a new company recently. My coworker who sits next to me watches "adult" videos constantly throughout the day. He doesn't even try to hide it. Nobody else seems to mind, and a lot of the guys seem buddy-buddy with him.

Now, I'm not a prude or anything, but this makes me very uncomfortable. Not only are the videos particularly disturbing and graphic (not even going to explain it here), but I'm the only female in the office and feel like people allowing this is going to contribute to sexism in the office.

The other day, I asked him politely if he could not watch this at work. He gave a sort of half hearted apology, which I thought was his way of saying he'd stop. But the next day he was right back at this. I later mentioned this to my boss, who just kind of shrugged it off and told me not to worry about it.

Is it a good idea to bring this up to HR? Since he'll probably figure it was me who brought it up, is there anything I can do to avoid possible blowback from him? Normally I would just ignore these things and avoid the conflict, but this is really bothering me

Just adding an edit:

Well, I feel really stupid.

I brought this up to HR. My VP then sat me down today and explained that a major pornographic site is one of our biggest clients, and my coworker has been working on a project for them for the past year. He then asked me why I hadn't read through the new employee training materials which covered information like this.

My boss is now upset with me, especially because he told me not to worry about it. To "avoid conflict" he has moved this coworker to another cube (the only opening is in the basement). Now everybody is clearly upset with me, since they all seem to like this coworker.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Mar 22 at 5:30
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    Does your co-worker's project necessarily involve watching the site's videos?
    – gidds
    Mar 24 at 11:31
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    Seems odd that he didn't just mention it when you asked. Mar 24 at 15:48
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    I'm curious about what this training material says that would cover this situation. ("You may be required to endure pornographic material so please don't be offended"?) In any case your boss is unreasonable to be upset with you - you brought it up with him and he should have explained then. Even the coworker could have said it when you first mentioned it (his "half-hearted apology" could have included "Sorry, but I have to do it for a project") - you have no reason to feel stupid.
    – komodosp
    Mar 25 at 16:32
  • @colmde The training materials might not have covered it because they might have simply asked the people involved if they were comfortable working on such a project and not thought about others who might see the screen. Mar 26 at 14:41

3 Answers 3

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In any decent employer, your colleague's behaviour is a straightforward case of harassment, gross misconduct, inappropriate use of company resources and probably a whole list of other things that should get him sacked on the spot. That the rest of your peers know and tolerate this is a big concern. That you raised it with your boss and were effectively ignored is a massive red flag to a very unhealthy company culture.

If you want to continue working at this place then complaining formally in writing to HR is your only option. They should take this seriously, sack the offender on the spot, discipline the manager very severely and, at the very minimum, give a stern reprimand and training to all the co-workers who have enabled this behaviour. If company policy doesn't make that the obvious, even inevitable, course of action for them then that that's definitive proof of a very dysfunctional culture.

Even if HR do all this, though, it's not going to fix the company and you're still in a job where this was tolerated for a long time, with colleagues who will likely blame you rather than take responsibility for the consequences of their own (in)action. Does this job or your wider situation warrant putting up with this? Realistically, I think you need to get out of there as soon as you can afford to, so start applying for other jobs now if you're not doing so already. Depending on your location, local laws, etc. it may be worth speaking to a lawyer to find out what threshold the company would have to cross for you to be entitled to a pay off to make it worth leaving without another job lined up.

Edit in response to update in the question

So, the situation isn't quite as you or we thought when the original question & answer were written. The video guy is not such a villain here, but the boss & company were still very much in the wrong for creating this situation, not explaining or mitigating it up-front, and not responding appropriately when you first raised your concern. What each should have done is a different question, though I still believe the situation points to a dysfunctional company culture, that raising it with HR was the right thing to do and that my final original paragraph still stands. If the boss or co-workers do retaliate against you, they are digging the harassment hole deeper.

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    Normally, for sure, there's an escalation process to follow. But this is an egregious breach of basic standards that the boss knew about and should already have sorted out long ago. That he needed to be told that this was not right indicates that he is part of the problem. That he didn't immediately put a stop to it when the OP mentioned it means HR need to be involved.
    – Saes
    Mar 18 at 10:43
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    I don't really see how something that he was already doing before she joined the company can be considered harassment. Other than that, it is obviously completely out of line.
    – Orbit
    Mar 18 at 12:37
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    Obviously, this only became harassment of the OP when she joined. But it was the wrong thing to be doing at work from the first time he did it, it may well have constituted harassment of others before she joined (seems unlikely that everyone was completely happy with the situation before) and the manager should have put a stop to it as soon as he became aware, regardless of whether anyone complained.
    – Saes
    Mar 18 at 13:26
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    @Orbit In the US you would be wrong about the definition of harassment. See this where it says "The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct."
    – Peter M
    Mar 18 at 14:34
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    @Orbit From the NZ link I gave you... "Examples of sexual harassment behaviour Victims of the harassment may not be just the target of the behaviour, but anyone affected by it. For example, a co-worker standing nearby when inappropriate sexual comments are said may be affected, even if the comments aren't directed toward them. ... Here are some examples of behaviours that may be considered sexual harassment in the workplace.. Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography".
    – Saes
    Mar 18 at 15:00
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In the past I worked in an adult-themed project. As a backend engineer I didn't need to see much of it (though I could if I wanted to), but a teammate who was more focused on the product side basically spent at least 1 or 2 hours every day "looking at p*rn". In reality they were testing the product, trying to understand how it would behave and how we wanted it, showcasing it to the customer, etc. That was literally their job, using the product that we were building. It just so happened that the product that we were building was an adult-themed site. And, yes, watching a full video was necessary, we got one or two bugs in random parts of the video and one right when the video ended.

This was for a small company and everyone knew what the project was about, so nobody was surprised or offended (or at least they didn't show it, I didn't personally ask). We communicated with everyone, and everyone was in the know and understood that it was literally our job to do that, and not doing so in office hours would mean doing our job outside office hours.

I don't know how similar your situation is (and I don't know if you yourself know), but honestly your teammates' and boss' communication is pretty bad. It would have taken 5 minutes to explain the situation.

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    5 minutes? 10 seconds I would think!
    – komodosp
    Mar 25 at 16:34
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I had a coworker who used to go in the microscope room to watch adult videos, and it was so known that we basically resorted to make a loud entry in the room to have him stop/pause the play at least while somebody else was in there.

A preliminary step you can take is check if your employer has an "employee manual", basically a guide with all the rules and policies employees are supposed to adhere while working for the employer.

If that exists, then you can check what it is considered inappropriate behavior and how it is sanctioned, and what is the escalation path for reporting such things, which you should follow.

Having a set of written rules in place, which every employee is supposed to subscribe to before starting working, helps reducing the shrugging off along the line of "boys will be boys" and should also protect who reports such things from retaliation.

If there is no such handbook, I think you have two options:

  1. request to be moved to a different desk. It will stop you from being exposed to his "hobby" without affecting him. This should minimize the aftermath on him, because it's entirely affecting things under your control.
  2. make a priority call between this particular job and being exposed to these videos, and if you can afford moving consider brushing up your CV.

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