Porn Incidents Illustrate Culture Gap in Banking Vs. Government Work

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Edgy finance-related Web sites sometimes caution that a link they're posting is "NSFW," or "not safe for work." But just how much career risk do people take who visit (or attempt to visit) sites that are, shall we say, inappropriate?

The answer probably differs for regulators and other government workers than for those employed by a bank. At least, that's the impression I get from two separate porn-at-work incidents sparking headlines this week.

The Washington Times reports that more than two dozen SEC employees and contractors faced internal probes within the past two years for viewing porn at their desks. One unnamed employee, a regional supervisor, was flagged by the agency's internal monitoring system for trying to access porn sites 1,880 times over a 17-day period. Another - who actually still works in the SEC's headquarters Enforcement Division - made at least 400 attempts to view pornography during a three-month period last year. He got off with a three-day suspension, SEC records show.

The story cites other examples of disciplinary actions, and mentions that at least two employees resigned while under investigation. Still, government procedures and civil service protections being what they are, it's a good bet they're less likely to get the ax than bankers or traders who get caught surfing porn at work.

Spotlight on Macquarie Banker

Meanwhile on the opposite side of the world, Macquarie Group private wealth banker David Kiely faces a grilling from HR and management after an Australian TV clip of a Macquarie economist speaking from the trading floor also showed Kiely viewing a semi-nude model on his computer in the background. "The decision on whether he remains with Macquarie is likely to be a lengthy process, with the bank keen to avoid potential unfair dismissal claims if Mr. Kiely does leave," the Australian newspaper reports.

Had Kiely's indiscretion occurred in the U.S. and reached the attention of the compliance department, he'd probably get short shrift, even if it hadn't been captured on video. U.S. institutions (and even foreign ones operating here) are already on alert about reputational risk. And apart from lost productivity, managements are aware desktop porn can make an employer more vulnerable to sex discrimination suits under U.S. courts' "hostile environment" doctrine.

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