Further to my letter of 19 April 2007, I would like to make a formal response to your own preceding letter of 17 April 2007. The points I would like to make are:
- You say that you have accepted my comments on the notes recorded from our meeting of 12 April. However, you then state that I said most of my internet usage at work is not work related, yet this contradicts and is inconsistent with the clarification that I entered into those notes that such a comment was clearly made ironically. Please explain.
- You state that the two websites in question were accessed from my computer on a total of 14 occasions. Although I admit to having knowledge of those two sites, upon further reflection the number of times they have been accessed from my computer frankly seems somewhat excessive. Given that the computers at C....... S....... are not locked as a matter of course, why are you convinced that it was me who accessed those sites each time?
- You state that you and the General Manager Information Systems viewed those sites on 12 April and found material of "a sexual nature". That is not beyond the realms of possibility and I shall take your word for it, but the only reason that I may have viewed those sites was not in search of sexual material. I explained this in the meeting of 12 April. Did you not also find material of a non-sexual nature? To gain entry into the adultfriendfinder.com website proper, for example, requires so much input of personal data before any type of material can be viewed that one would give up after a very short while. That was indeed the case with me, despite the altruistic nature of my access (as the extremely low level of my traffic indicates). If you have solid evidence that I was viewing sexual material at the times recorded from my computer, and not just at the time you viewed the sites with the General Manager Information Systems, then please present it to me. The cover page of the second website in question contains no sexual images whatsoever, and is even more innocent than the first. If you undertake a more than cursory search of the site you will find material of a non-sexual nature also. Again, please provide me with evidence that I was viewing sexual material there at the times recorded. The onus is on you to prove my guilt, i.e. inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour, rather than for me to prove my innocence.
- If your case against me rests solely on the charge that I have viewed sexual material, then it is incumbent upon me to point out to you that any number of seemingly innocent websites contain material of a sexual nature. Even newspaper websites contain such material from time to time. I put it to you that sexual images contained on the front page of adultfriendfinder or even inside the website (of which I have no knowledge) are no worse than news or magazine articles containing pictures of American celebrities Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears of a sexual nature. I know for a fact that other staff at C....... S....... view such material from their work computers. If you charge me with inappropriate and unprofessional conduct on such grounds, then in the interests of fairness (your phrase) you must charge other staff with similar misconduct.
- In the matter of what other C...... S....... staff access on their work computers, I know for a fact that some colleagues have been detected by the IS monitoring system for viewing seemingly inappropriate material also. In fact, a number of them are responsible for a larger volume of traffic on allegedly questionable sites than I am. Again, in the interests of fairness you should be pursuing investigations against them as well and any other staff member ‘guilty’ of viewing inappropriate material on the Internet. Or if the real issue is one of viewing any type of non-work related website, then each member of C...... S........, including the Senior Management Team, should be investigated. Of course, I am not really suggesting such a course of action at all; I am simply pointing out how this process makes a complete mockery of your assertion of "fairness". Is it or is it not true that the IS monitoring system at C....... S....... is actually very unsophisticated and incapable of detecting Internet access that is truly offensive and inappropriate? Why then have I been singled out for special attention through this HR process?
- The monitoring record of the alleged usage from my computer shows virtually nil traffic. Normally usage of websites with content of "a sexual nature" requires a large amount of traffic in order to actually gain access to the material, not to mention the input of credit card details. This is clearly not the case with the alleged use from my computer. I therefore do not consider the usage to be a breach of "appropriate and professional standards".
- During the meeting of 12 April I asked what action you sought to take following my explanation of how the two websites in question had been accessed from my computer. You replied that you wished to reflect upon the information gathered from the meeting before making a decision. Your decision appears to be to continue the process against me and let the Corporate Services General Manager make the final decision, but based only upon the prima facie case against me. I explained during that meeting of 12 April what the mitigating factors were regarding any access to said sites that I may be responsible for. For the purposes of clarification, let me reiterate why I very briefly accessed those sites:
a. To search for potential partners for my brother-in-law because he is both pathologically shy and computer illiterate. This was done with the full knowledge and support of my wife, who I make mention of here to emphasise that viewing of such sites was not undertaken with the intent you that imagine.
b. In the case of camcontacts, simply to maintain correspondence with friends from Europe. If you look closely at the site you will find that there is a section for chatting with ‘friends’. Once again, I repeat that this site began life as a chatting facility similar to Skype, but has only recently turned into something voyeuristic and less wholesome, and that was without my noticing. While this activity is non-work related, it is certainly no more inappropriate than reading international newspapers or contributing to environmental blogs during lunch hours (an example of which was sent to members of SMT sometime back without hint of a rebuke).
Your continuation of this process as described in your letter of 17 April does not appear to take any of these mitigating factors into consideration at all. Please explain.
8. As I noted above, there are many websites that are truly offensive and which would be inappropriate and unprofessional to view during work hours and using work facilities. Leaving aside the fact that one could view such material very easily at C....... S....... and not be detected (e.g. sexually explicit sites without thumbnails and written in a foreign language) at least up until the recent installation of new software following the staging of this process, I did actually consider whether there was any risk involved in viewing the two sites in question. However, I dismissed the risk factor immediately as I knew that it was not offensive and any sensible person querying such access would quickly understand once it was explained to them.
In conclusion, I see no justification for taking this disproportionate action against me. What I am alleged to have done was not in my opinion inappropriate and unprofessional and these charges do not stand up to close scrutiny. At the most it constitutes a very, very mild error of judgement which could have been dealt with at a far lower level and which a number of staff members could be guilty of. The determination to immediately escalate the matter to this level displays a singular lack of good management and good HR advice.
I have always provided a very high degree of professional policy and planning support to C...... S......., evidence of which I have in your own hand. Never at any time was the organisation’s credibility at stake, which should be the sole criterion for taking this type of action. All that you have managed to extract from this process is in fact a real potential risk to C...... S...... credibility and reputation by provoking the resignation of a key staff member responsible for relationship management with extremely important stakeholders and writing some of your most important documents. Furthermore, as I am not embarrassed in the least about viewing these two websites I have been discussing this process with a number of my colleagues within National Office. They have, without exception, expressed bewilderment, disappointment and even disgust at the manner with which this issue has dealt. As one of them noted: "Just because someone has an advertisement for Beehive matches on their desk doesn’t mean you call the fire brigade."
Finally, can you please forward me a signed copy of the amended meeting notes of 12 April, a receipt indicating that you have received and read this letter, and, unless you have already done so, my performance appraisal as at 6 March 2007. I have sought legal advice on this matter and as a result I will require all documentation to be formally receipted. I also expect that the next step in this process will be taken only after due consideration has been made of the points outlined above and any further decision is well reasoned and argued.