While it is not beyond belief that students with tablets and smart phones might surreptitiously occupy their minds elsewhere during a lecture, this year’s Employmentlawworldview Oscar for Best Multitasking must surely go to the Swiss professor dismissed last week for watching porn while giving a lecture.  What poise, what practice, what confidence that must take, and what a fool you must feel as it dawns on you (presumably some moments after your now riveted audience) that your laptop is still plugged into the lecture hall projector.

According to a report on the Independent online a professor described as a “popular veteran” teacher at Zurich Business School has been sacked after inadvertently projecting porn onto a screen whilst in the middle of the lecture.

Not only did the students get some unexpected images not contained in their curriculum but they also had a glimpse into the professor’s sexual preferences when they saw that he had been searching for images of “naked amputees”.

The Independent reports that the professor immediately owned up to his indiscretion (no doubt because news of it would have been all across the campus and social media in no time anyway).  The Business School took the decision to sack him.  Rolf Butz, (no, really) of the Business School is quoted in the article as saying that the professor had otherwise “never committed any indiscretion” in his forty years of teaching.

The story presents a cautionary tale for many.  If you are going to watch porn; don’t do it on your work laptop or electronic devices.  Ideally also, try not to watch porn and work at the same time – one or other is bound to suffer as a result.  For this particular professor, it has spelt the end of a long and blameless teaching career.

Most employment lawyers have been called at some point by a flustered HR Manager who reports the discovery of porn on work machines both in and out of work time.  Many workplaces today have policies dealing with such issues, setting out clearly what is unacceptable such as viewing material on work machines and making it clear that such an activity may be a gross misconduct offence.   The policies are there to ensure that work time is spent on work rather than logging onto porn websites and to protect employees from possible discrimination (and in turn, employers from claims) by people viewing such images at work.

However, whatever your policy says, you cannot leap straight from porn to dismissal.  What a person does in their spare time is, for the most part, their own business (though one might well say that splashing it onto a huge screen in front of a large audience undermined that legitimate expectation of privacy to some extent).  Against that, it was clearly momentary only and wholly accidental and is it necessarily the case that anyone’s best interests were served here by the professor’s dismissal?  The Business School loses a valued and effective stalwart, the professor loses his income and career and the students lose the services of a “popular” and otherwise blameless tutor.   No one can seriously suggest that this was acceptable behaviour by the professor, but, to pose a deliberately contrary position, was it really necessary for a moment’s human frailty to end that way?