The Society points out that the recent judgment (8 October) by Employment Court Judge Coral Shaw, overturning the July 2007 ruling by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that awarded $9,000 for hurt feelings to an employee, Jessica Wood, for unjust dismissal by her employer for her breach of company policy involving emails; highlights the bizarre nature of that flawed ERA decision. ERA member Dennis Asher who wrote it, was quite wrong to have suggested that an employer has to secure a classification decision from the Chief Censor’s Office confirming that an email is “objectionable”, before dismissing an employee for disseminating offensive and sexually explicit content in breach of company email policy.
Judge Shaw rejected the ERA ruling that employer, Arthur D Riley & Co., had “a significantly flawed and less than consistent approach” to its policy against accessing and transmitting “inappropriate material” via the internet/intranet because other staff who she had forwarded an offensive and sexually explicit email on to, had not been disciplined as she had. The ERA had also ruled the images were not as objectionable as the company claimed. However, Judge Shaw commended the company for its fair and reasonable approach to the disciplinary action and the clarity of its policies and negated the ERA compensation payout.
In its Business Update e-newsletter published soon after the ERA decision was released in 2007, employer lobby group Business NZ scoffed at the authority’s suggestion that the company could have gone to the Chief Censor’s Office – The Office of Film and Literature Classification – for an “objective view” of the email.
“The thought of companies all over New Zealand having to run to the official censor [Bill Hastings] to rule on employees’ naughty emails is a humorous one,” it said. “But more important, the ruling raises the question of a company’s right to set its own standards, both for the protection of staff and protection of the company’s image and brand … Why shouldn’t companies have the right to set and maintain standards of appropriate workplace behaviour?” [Ref. 1]
The Society points out that much of the inappropriate, lewd, racist and obscene email content that gets passed around some workplace computers by employees, would hardly raise the eyelids of the Chief Censor Bill Hastings and his Deputy Nicola McCully, who have sanctioned films like Baise-Moi, Visitor Q and Irreversible, featuring lengthy, explicit and gratuitous scenes of brutal rape, necrophilia, etc. for adult film festivals. These censors have approved truckloads of grossly offensive sexually explicit and gratuitous DVDs and videos for home adult entertainment and the public cinema, that demean, degrade and dehumanise women.
For a static computer image or images (such as those forwarded to work colleagues via email by Miss Wood) to be classified “objectionable” by the Chief Censor’s Office the image(s) must feature content extending way beyond mere adult nudity, racial slurs, exposed adult private parts etc. Generally, it would have to promote and support activities such as paedophilia, sexual violence, etc. before the Chief Censor’s Office would even consider ruling it “objectionable”, thereby banning it.
What the general public considers grossly offensive – in terms of sexual content – often bears little if any relationship with the judgment of the Chief Censor’s Office. However, occasionally the Society has been pleasantly surprised – as when the Office recently banned the blasphemous and offensive “Cradle of Filth” T-shirt.
Ref. 1. Censoring makes sense, but only if it’s consistent, by Simon Hendery: