Not Safe for Work

I was recently made aware of a blog entry (NSFW) by the illustrious and incredibly verbose Susie Bright. (If you’re not sure who Susie Bright is, then I suggest that you read up on San Francisco history.)

The person who made me aware of the post is also a sex writer and tried to make Susie’s point. Of course I asked that she indulge me and try to see it from the HR point of view.

First off, the term “Not Safe for Work” (NSFW) is probably a misnomer. It’s not a matter of safety. It’s a matter of conducting oneself in a manner most appropriate for the situation. And the workplace requires employees to act appropriately. Perhaps the most accurate term is “Not Appropriate for Work”.

Anyway, in the blog post, Susie makes the point that the NSFW movement has gone too far. To quote:

NSFW is unmandated, unlegislated censorship — there’s no ballot to punch, no senator to harangue.

The great majority of NSFW warnings are the result of unconscious class bias, with the conceit of American ethnocentrism. It’s made a mockery of out of journalism and the First Amendment.

I take issue with Susie’s point that deeming something inappropriate for work makes a mockery of anything. She goes on to say that publications such as Rolling Stone, National Geographic and the New York Times all publish bare breasts and are considered to be safe for work and encourages people to “start a new labeling system that mocks the whole concept.” and proudly announces to her audience, “Yep, it’s time to announce: NSFP: Not Safe For Prudes.”

With all due respect, as my dear friend Violet pointed out, has Susie ever worked in an office? Does she know what is and is not appropriate for the workplace?*

I personally don’t care what employees do on their own time. (As if I’m one to talk – that’s me on the right behind bars). But work is work. You’re not necessarily surrounded by friends nor is anyone going to care whether you’re reading the New York Times or Playboy if the subject matter could possibly offend someone. And if a reasonable person could be offended, then it is considered to be offensive.

At least letting people know whether or not they should read it at work gives them an opportunity to decide for themselves what they need to do. And then live with the consequences of whatever their choice may be.

We live in an incredibly litigious time and companies have to protect themselves. Sexual harassment claims are at an all time high. In fact, today, Southwest Airlines settled a sexual harassment suit for the paltry sum of $100,000. It seems that a male employee made sexually suggestive comments, “flaunted nude pictures” in front of his victims, made reference to his sexual exploits and simulated sexual acts while at work. Or the $550,000 settlement in a case involving a McDonald’s franchise in Phoenix? Or what about the Colma Lexus dealer that settled a case for $375,000 per claimant (there were 5 in all) because their employees could not behave themselves. The list goes on and on and on. With this in mind, most companies are going to take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace (and AB1825 ensures that we do.)

Susie also claims that NSFW is “infantalism”. Again, with all due respect, that’s a bunch of crap. Look at the examples above and tell me that letting people know what may not be appropriate in the workplace is treating anyone like a child. Rather, it is giving people the opportunity to be adults and make decisions appropriate for the workplace.

And it is our job as HR professionals to provide an environment free of harassment and discrimination for all our employees.

If that’s “prudish”, so be it. I can certainly live with that.

*Update: I received an email from Susie Bright who told me that she had spent many years working in an office.

Update #2: I misspoke when I stated that my friend Violet had “pointed out” that Susie had never worked in an office. What I really should have said is that we were discussing the article and wondered aloud if Susie had ever worked in an office. I apologize to my dear friend for that error. Shows that one should never blog when one is exhausted.

2 Replies to “Not Safe for Work”

  1. I am doing a research project about obscenity and censorship confusion and could you recommend any scholarly studies that may be involved with this NSFW phenomenon? This is a great article. I’m not a prude, however, some things are unnecessary in a professional, office setting. Half naked desktops don’t improve morale–it objectifies.

    But anyway, do you know of anyone else studying this by chance?

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