Orange sacks forty over Internet porn

Biggest Net sacking case in the country as Orange sends staff packing for distributing porn

Mobile phone network operator Orange admits Friday it has sacked forty members of staff for the "distribution of inappropriate material" in what is believed to be the biggest Internet sacking case in the UK.

Orange refuses to comment on whether the material is pornographic in nature but claims that all employees are made aware of its strict terms and conditions in their contracts. Experts warn that the increasing trend of sacking employees for distributing pornography or spending too much time online could be being used as an excuse to get rid of people.

Employers will have to be careful how they apply rules about email, Catherine Taylor of law firm Olswang claims. She warns that sacking someone over email could be a smokescreen. "Some employers could be using it as an excuse to get rid of someone and then it becomes an issue about discrimination."

An Orange spokesman confirms it has got rid of forty employees. "Members of staff have been dismissed for the distribution of inappropriate material," he says. "Our terms and conditions clearly state that the distribution of messages or attachments that are offensive, harassing, obscene, racist, sexist, threatening or libellous is strictly prohibited."

The Orange employees are the latest victims in a growing number of Internet sacking cases. This month, White House staff were caught downloading porn and one stepped down. Last June a Cheshire woman was fired for spending too much time surfing and a Gloucester City Council worker was dismissed in September for "misusing" the Internet. Perhaps the most publicised sacking for surfing case came in February of this year when 23 employees of the New York Times were sacked for swapping porn at work.

Taylor believes such cases raise issues about the relationship between employer and employee. "The question is how did the employers check that such things were happening," she says. Taylor believes the government's snooping bill RIP (Regulation of Investigatory Powers) and the Human Rights Act -- both due to become law next month -- will make it harder for employers to spy on email.

She believes it is inevitable that employers will start to ban distribution of certain emails at work. "Some firms have a policy that all email has to be work related. It is a question of degree and depends what attitude you take to company property but emails can become obstructive to getting work done."

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