Dow to Fire Upto 40 for Sexually Explicit E-Mails

FRAMINGHAM (08/22/2000) - Dow Chemical Co., which had problems with pornographic e-mails earlier this year, said it will fire up to 40 employees this week because of new violations.

The two cases are unconnected, according to spokeswoman Kanina Blanchard.

She added that Dow doesn't monitor e-mail and said that these violations, which took place at the company's Freeport, Texas, location, came to light as a result of complaints by other employees.

"When employees make a specific complaint -- as in this case -- it triggered an investigation which included a review of the servers which host the e-mail accounts," she said.

Employees who had pornographic or violent materials in their accounts were investigated, she said. Those who actively brought in, saved and disseminated the material, those who had material that was extremely graphic or violent in nature, and those with histories of violating Dow policies were singled out for termination.

"This was a minority of employees," she said, and employees who innocently received pornographic materials were not investigated.

"I personally have received off-color or inappropriate e-mails," she said.

"Once you get on the spam lists, you all know what you get. But this is not the kind of activity that you would get questioned about."

Last month, Dow concluded another investigation sparked by complaints that resulted in the firings of about 50 employees at its Midland, Mich., site.

As a result of these incidents, the company will step up efforts to communicate its e-mail policies. "We will be doing additional training," Blanchard said.

Other companies can learn from this lesson, said Lauren Haywood, acting president and CEO at the Electronic Messaging Association & E-Business Forum in Arlington, Va.

"The key thing is training and education for their employees," she said. She added that it's important for a company to decide on an e-mail privacy policy.

Ken Dort, a Chicago-based attorney at Gordon & Glickson LLC, said that Dow had to investigate the pornographic e-mails to avoid appearing to support a hostile work environment.

They really had no choice because sexual harassment was involved," he said.

They weren't violating privacy rights because the employer has the right to look at an employee e-mail, he said. Dow also had to look at personal e-mail to determine if the claims of sexual harassment were true.

Meghan Holohan contributed to this report.

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