“What would you do if you found very inappropriate material on your boss’s (company owned) laptop while searching for that important official document?”
A. Blow the whistle on your boss?
B. Act like you haven’t seen anything?
C. Discuss it with your boss?
I would imagine that there should a compliance unit whose duty it is to scan through employees mails and the likes for the purpose of detecting brand eroding content. This often serves to spare the organization of more dire consequences should the situation spiral out of control.
In the absence of this form of control, I would always put the business first. The suitability of the route to ply would be greatly determined by a number of factors as well as the answer to such questions as:
Is it in the long term interest of the business? Does it have damaging implication on the brand? Does it have legal implications for the business if discovered? Will it upset staff or result in uneasiness if discovered? Does it question the capability of the ‘guilty’ party in carrying out tasks or undermine his/her credibility with his/her associates etc…?
If the answers to all the above are yes, then, the answer is quite clear. Whistle blow and tell HR about it.
In many cases that would be a resounding yes, but in other cases it might not be so clear.
If, for instance, there are no specific company policies against such content, then does the employee have an obligation to report? Perhaps the feeling of upset might not be down to any legal wrong, but merely one of personal view of morality, or perhaps the viewed content seems to be a let-down on how the ‘guilty’ colleague had earlier been perceived/revered.
However, if it is content that bothers no one and has no implication on the business as well as all parties who matter, then it may be alright to act like you’ve seen nothing. Besides, worse things are happening in the world right?
Finally, I would only advise a discussion with the boss when it is of a more personal nature. It is imperative to note that talking it over with the boss is dicey and best when a more cordial relationship exists – although that might also make it harder to broach the subject.
When the issue involved relates to such things as a fetish or habit that has now gone overboard, given the sensitive/personal nature of it, it may only be fair to inform and give chance for the benefit of the doubt before heading the HR route.
Relationship also has a lot to do with the third route because (otherwise) this could prove to be the most difficult of all three options -one that could so easily result in victimization and a total nightmare.