Q: My workplace has a "zero tolerance" policy for
visits to inappropriate web sites. All employees are
supposed to immediate report such behavior to
management. Should I go straight to management with
A: It's a good thing your workplace is sensitive to
the damage these immodest websites can do to the
worker's own moral fiber, to the offense they can
cause to fellow workers, and to the disruption they
can cause to performance. However, the policy you
describe to fight the phenomenon does not sound like a
In Jewish law and tradition informing on someone is
generally a last resort. The preferred first line of
action is to turn directly to the wrongdoer with a
gentle reminder. There are two different ethical
principles behind this preference.
One reason for starting with the wrongdoer is that
this fulfills the Torah commandment of reproof.
"Surely reproove your fellow, and don't bear sin
towards him." This commandment is not directed
towards the protection of any third parties, but
rather for the benefit of the wrongdoer himself, to
gently remind of the the right way in life.
Furthermore, informing on others is itself a forbidden
activity, unless certain conditions are met. The Torah
tells us "don't go about as a gossip-monger among your
people," meaning we should not spread malicious
information. This prohibition is superceded only when
the disclosure meets certain conditions, which we have
called the "ABCs" of forbidden speech:
Accuracy: we must relate the information accurately,
without exaggeration or judgment.
Benefit: the revelation must be the only way to
promote some constructive benefit
Certainty: we shouldn't relate hearsay.
Desire: our intention must be to bring about the
constructive benefit, not to disparage the wrongdoer.
Equity: the steps the hearer will take to protect
himself shouldn't cause immoderate and undeserved harm
to the wrongdoer.
In many cases turning directly to the wrongdoer will
rectify the problem, so informing would not be the
only way to promote the constructive benefit; the
benefit condition would thus be violated.
The certainty condition may also be violated. Any
internet user knows how easy it is to get accidentally
redirected to inappropriate sites, and it may be that
the colleague in question never had any intention of
entering forbidden web pages.
Depending on the reaction of management, the equity
condition is also jeopardized. If disciplinary action
is immediately taken against a worker for a one-time
infraction, this sounds to me like an excessive
reaction. The Talmud tells us that a worker shouldn't
be summarily fired for minor mistakes on the job; only
for severe and irreparable ones. A commensurability
standard should also apply to reprimands.
An immediate reaction could possible be justified if
for some reason your company would face immediate
damage from inappropriate web visits of employees. (I
don't know why this would apply.) In this case, the
employer could be justified in taking action.
Otherwise, it would seem that the only permissible
response would be for them to issue a reminder; but in
this case, it is hard to see what you gain by going to
management instead of gently reminding your colleague
For these reasons, it would seem much more appropriate
to allow workers to respond to forbidden behavior by
simply giving a gentle reminder to their colleagues.
The claim could be made that workers waive their right
to protection by agreeing to the "rat first" policy,
but I would be reluctant to sanction the waiving of
such a fundamental right without compelling
I would recommend asking those responsible for this
policy what the justification is. If it seems that
there truly is a clear and present danger to the
workplace from employee visits to forbidden
sites, and if their reaction to information is
balanced, the policy could be justified. A balanced
policy means that employees have a chance to defend
themselves (insuring that the information acted on is
accurate), that they are given the benefit of the
doubt, and most importantly that the reaction of the
management is commensurate. For example, the first
report would involve a reminder, then a reprimand,
and so on.
But if the policy dictates a draconian reaction to
colleague reports, I personally would avoid policing
my colleagues and instead just look the other way.
(Actually, I always look the other way when I am
confronted by these sites anyway.)