I’ve recently been seconded into a professional position within a Logistics Company in England, working with a team made up of management from my company and management from our customer, in an office environment.

One of my colleagues (works for the same company as me, not the customer), who sits beside me, is constantly talking to people on a web forum. This in itself is acceptable as use of social media is encouraged, however I have recently learnt that the forum is for escorts and their customers. This includes graphic pictures. In the UK it is illegal to browse such content where others can see it (we had a meeting about this after another colleague was fired for something similar), so it is something I should address, but at the same time I’m in an awkward position to address this issue.

I don’t currently believe that anyone else is aware of what this forum actually is, despite it being something that the colleague discusses openly (though leaves the escort part out of his discussions). I only came to learn of what it was because the way our desks are laid out, mine and his are in a secluded corner where only we can see each other’s screens. Our screens are purposely positioned so that we can see each others because our parts of the project are so closely tied together. I only took note of specifically what he was up to after I became aware that he would begin acting suspiciously and take careful note of what I was doing whenever he loaded the site up.

This is where it gets tricky: I want to address this, it’s something that has potential to damage the project we're on. At the same time I can see there being some rather serious consequences to bringing this up. I’ve thought of three potential courses of action, but each one has significant potential drawbacks that I would like to minimise.

  • Scenario 1: I go to his manager or HR and discuss this. This kind of thing has happened before in the company, all times resulting in dismissal. Within the company rules it is strictly an instant dismissal. As much as I want to deal with this, I don’t want to get the guy fired. Other than the whole hiring escorts thing, he’s actually a nice guy who spends nearly all of his time raising money for charity and organising charity events within our workplace (his latest having already raised over £18,000 and still has a few more weeks yet). I don’t think my conscience would let me sleep with that outcome.
  • Scenario 2: I speak to him about it, off the record. I’ve already attempted this with a light-hearted comment about being on the forum during work time, without including any indication that I know what the forum actually is. He brushed this off. It is risky to be more forceful on the matter because despite being his equal now, my secondment ends in three months and I will be under him after that. As nice as he is, I don’t want to risk being under someone that knows that I know their secrets, especially since he has a reputation as being unpredictable during conflict. He once drove from our Nottingham office to the one in Southampton because someone found an error in his work and he wanted to challenge it in person. This was how he dealt with conflict with someone a few levels higher, so I dread to think how he would deal with conflict with someone lower down.
  • Scenario 3: I send him an anonymous email. This has no risk to me and no risk to his job, but highly likely to freak him out. I feel sorry for the guy, he’s mid 30’s, lives with his mum and claims to have never had a friend, let alone a girlfriend. I can kind-of see why Escorts appeal to him, so suddenly making him afraid of what he likely sees as his only social interaction seems incredibly cruel. There’s also the risk of more extreme reactions.

There’s a few other things I’ve considered:

  • A) Asking to move desks away from the colleague, which unfortunately isn’t possible as my current position and what he does is tied together. We do need to work together rather closely.
  • B) Talking to my manager, but unfortunately she is underneath him so it won’t be a great position for her either. (To clarify, I’m temporarily above my own manager).
  • C) Just putting up with it, which I might not be able to stomach after inadvertently discovering his more extreme sexual preferences. I could probably put up with this behaviour if it was occasional, but I’ve noticed it 6 times today alone (he’s actually on there as I type this sentence) and it makes me feel ill to think he’s engaging in something sexual in nature right at the side of me.
  • D) Putting up with it also runs the risk that our customer discovers this behaviour, which would undoubtedly damage relationships there. He's high enough that they could use that to pull contract. This is probably likely as one of their higher managers is actually sat on the other side of the desk and he regularly comes around to check how things are going. Not to mention the entire IT infrastructure is theirs also.

I’m well aware that during a situation like this, there is no winner and no easy solutions. I’m aware that someone’s going to be upset at the end of this. What I’m looking for is, how can someone deal with situations like this with the least amount of collateral damage? Can anyone share some expertise on Conflict Resolution that might apply to this kind of situation, or perhaps even know of some kind of way to help the guy? I'd preferably like a to find a way of resolving it where everyone keeps their jobs.

closed as too broad by gnat, paparazzo, mcknz, Joe Strazzere, IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 20 '17 at 18:15

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    @sleddog give it a rest, please. Comments are not for discussing the OP's character and what you think of it. – Monica Cellio Mar 20 '17 at 19:58
  • I really wonder how people decided that this is a too broad question................ – Helen Sep 23 at 21:48

Let's be blunt. Your office has a policy that this sort of thing cannot be done at work. Your co-worker is aware of that policy and that others have been fired for not following it. He knows he is doing wrong or he wouldn't be trying to hide it from you. This sort of thing is not only a sexual harassment problem but those types of sites tend to be where viruses that can disrupt your business can be picked up. So he deserves to be fired and he knows it. He has decided that his sex life is more important than his job. Why on earth would you feel guilty about bring up the issue to his boss?

If you want to try to salvage him, you need to do more than hint. Tell him outright that he has got to stop accessing that stuff at work. But it is highly unlikely he will stop. He already knows he can get fired. Most likely if he knows you know, he will take steps to make you look bad so any accusations are not believed. Based on what you said, this is not a nice person, he is sleaze with an anger management problem. He is not in any way trustworthy.

You might want to check out the company's written policy on this sort of thing. You could also get in trouble if you knew and didn't say anything. If that is in the policy, don't risk your own job. We had something happen in one job where someone said something bad about her co-workers on Facebook and not only did she get fired, but everyone who was a friend of hers who had not reported it got into trouble as well although they were not fired.

In this situation maybe instead of going to HR directly go to HIS immediate supervisor and explain what is happening. You mentioned something to him and he didn't change his behavior, so the next step is to escalate it. If his manager doesn't do anything then I would go to the HR department for sure. Another option would be to find out if your office has an "Equal Opportunity" or "Harassment" officer where incidents can be reported if you don't want to go to HR directly.

Don't think about the impact on him and his life, he made the decision to do what he's doing and he can live with the consequences. You need to look out for you and the best interests of the company. You made a mention that it would be damaging if a customer found out, how would you feel about that if you lost your job (maybe due to lower sales) and he kept his even though it's his fault.

This is clearly bothering you or else you wouldn't have done anything or made a post looking for advice. You have a right to have a safe and harassment free workplace, and that's exactly what this situation is. You 100% should not have to put up with it, especially since this is sexual in nature.

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    "it’s something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable because I am now aware that he is making bookings with specific requests (ones that I personally find disturbing," <- This is one of the types of harassment in the workplace. The other person doesn't need to be doing anything directed towards OP, but the co-worker's actions are making OP feel uncomfortable in the workplace to the extent that OP would like to move desks away from the other person. This is no different than someone hanging up a calendar with a nude girl. – Pork Pants Mar 20 '17 at 17:35
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    @AndreiROM what's to prevent somebody from walking behind his desk and seeing what he's looking at? Maybe the guy is on a phone call and forgets what is on his screen. It doesn't matter HOW OP saw the material, the fact is that he did, it's a violation of the policy and the law in their country, and it has made the workplace uncomfortable for OP. – Pork Pants Mar 20 '17 at 17:40
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    @AndreiROM The difference here is the sexual nature of the content. Sure you might work with a Vegan and they might be offended if you eat a hamburger, but that isn't something they can file a complaint about. There are very specific rules about sexual harassment in the workplace. I will admit that my knowledge is based off of U.S. rules, but I'm guessing they're similar in the U.K. Sexual harassment doesn't have to be directed at someone to be harassment. If you're in a closed office and someone over hears you telling a story about an encounter last night that's harassment. – Pork Pants Mar 20 '17 at 17:51
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    @Darryl_Holmes don't sell yourself short, you made it clear that the sexual content bothers you, and it's because of the actions of the other person. You have a right to work in an environment that is free from that type of harassment. Sure his activity is against a company policy, but it's more than though. – Pork Pants Mar 20 '17 at 17:53
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    @PorkPants: Also depends on the person seeing it. If Darryl has the desk to the right of that person and these pictures of a sexual nature offend him, then it's harrassment. If I have the desk to his left and the same pictures don't offend me then it's not harrassment. If we all like the pictures but then the cleaner enters and is offended, then it's harrassment. – gnasher729 Mar 20 '17 at 23:50

Ugh, I'm sorry. You've gotta talk to somebody, I'm afraid. You could talk directly to his manager (the "I'm having a problem with your managee" conversation), or you could talk to your manager and she could talk to his (the "I'm having a problem at work and need my manager's help" conversation, followed by the "Manager to manager, you need to deal with this" conversation).

What he's doing might constitute sexual harassment, but I really don't know about UK law. Even if it doesn't, you could go to your manager and say "I've tried ignoring this, but it bothers me so much it makes it difficult for me to work. What can we do about it?" Of course, your manager might just say "Tough luck," or "What a sensitive snowflake; you're fired," but that seems unlikely.

But it would be better to focus on this:

In the UK it is illegal to browse such content where others can see it

and this:

Putting up with it also runs the risk that our customer discovers this behaviour, which would undoubtedly damage relationships there. He's high enough that they could use that to pull contract.

because those are bigger issues to the company than how terrible you feel. So say something like this: "I have a problem with Joe I need to talk to you about. He's been booking escorts at work. This makes me really uncomfortable, but I also want to bring it up because it's illegal for him to do this where other people can see it, and I'm concerned that if clients find out, it will damage the company's reputation and we could lose contracts."

You should also say "I'm concerned that coming forward like this will have negative repercussions for me, since Joe will become my supervisor at the end of my secondment, and he may retaliate against me for reporting this. What can we do to prevent that?"

(Note: in the US, retaliation for making good-faith reports of illegal harassment is specifically forbidden in harassment law. If you have similar protections, and you think he's committing illegal harassment under UK law, you should phrase this so it refers to that. In the US, the word "retaliation" should do it.)

On the plus side, if your company has an instant-firing policy for this kind of thing, he may not be in a position to retaliate against you.

Other than the whole hiring escorts thing, he’s actually a nice guy who spends nearly all of his time raising money for charity

I'm sorry, but I think you just have to get over that. Jobs are not a reward for charity work. You keep your job by doing it well and in accordance with company policy, and he's not doing that. If it helps, your company can take his charity into account if they want, but that's their call, not yours.

If you just want him to change his behavior, you could talk to him, but that kind of conversation generally carries a subtext of "Or else I'll talk to management," and it sounds like he'd take it badly ("I don’t want to risk being under someone that knows that I know their secrets, especially since he has a reputation as being unpredictable during conflict"). So you don't have a lot of other options here, unfortunately.

In the meantime, you can make your day-to-day life a lot easier if you avoid looking at his screen as much as possible. It sounds like you've actually read some of the messages he's sending, which requires more than an accidental glance. Make a concerted effort to look at your own screen.

Good luck!

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    Thank you. They're definitely not going to say "tough luck", the company has an incredibly strict, zero tolerance policy on anything sexual at work or on work computers. Which is why I was trying to start a discussion on here for a different solution. I like the guy and feel a little sorry for him, but like everyone has said, he's defied company policy, put the project at risk and it should be up to management. – Darryl_Holmes Mar 20 '17 at 19:20
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    @Darryl_Holmes It's nice of you to want to help him, but I don't think you really can if you're not friends. – MissMonicaE Mar 20 '17 at 19:23
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    I tend to agree with @MissMonicaE when she says you can't help if you're not friends. I don't interact with my coworkers the same way I would friends, and being confronted by someone I barely know about something would irk me. There are ways to deal with the workplace without being personal because there HAVE to be. Heck, even if they were my friend, I'd likely tell them once before going to the boss. They know the rules, and so do I....(first time I've ever Rick Roll'd a comment, I swear) – SliderBlackrose Mar 22 '17 at 17:33

I don't feel that the focus here should be the OP's feeling of being uncomfortable, it should be the rules, and the company's liability in this situation (viruses from these sites, or maybe some legal issue arising in the future).

The situation as I see it is this: The OP saw this person on a website which should be off limits in the workplace. Furthermore, although he is currently this person's "equal", in the near future he will become this person's subordinate.

There's only two real paths to take here, although there exists a third option which has a high likelihood of being harmful to the OP:

Option 1: Report Him

This guy is breaking the rules and he knows it. You may choose to inform the company that you witnessed a violation of the rules (your motivations are irrelevant). The IT department can confirm this, and this person will suffer the consequences of their actions, whether it's being dismissed with cause, or simply slapped on the wrist by HR.

There exists a possibility that this person won't be fired, and will hold a grudge against you. Such is life, and it's something to keep in mind when choosing to step forward.

Option 2: Ignore It

By far the simplest way to preserve your working relationship is not to say anything. Let this person do as he may - one day he will probably be caught, and pay the price of his actions.

Until that day comes however, simply keep your head down, and pretend you know nothing about it. Don't look at his screen, and don't engage in conversation about his browsing activities. It may be distasteful to you, but such is life.

Option 3: Talk to Him [Not Recommended]

You can choose to confront this person about their activities. However, from what you've said about this person's attitude and personality, that conversation would probably degenerate into an unpleasant situation.

Heck, this guy might decide that getting rid of you is the best way of preserving his secret. I would recommend not getting involved in a one on one situation on this matter.

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    "It's your duty to inform the company that you witnessed a violation of the rules." - Actually, it is not. – John Hammond Mar 20 '17 at 18:39
  • Option 3 is viable if OP documents this behaviour and can have IT provide evidence (browser history stored on the computer/serverlogs). That could even work as leverage if OP is "threatened" in any way by this guy. – Edwin Lambregts Mar 21 '17 at 14:29

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