Department of Public Health and Human Services investigating sexually explicit e-mails

HELENA - About a dozen Montana employees face suspension for allegedly sending sexually explicit e-mails on state Child Support Enforcement Division computers.

Mary Ann Wellbank, division administrator, confirmed Thursday that the state Department of Public Health and Human Services is investigating more than 12 employees who may have used state equipment to mail "inappropriate adult humor."

These workers have been notified of the allegations and have a chance to respond before the department takes possible disciplinary action, which ranges from a written warning to termination. Wellbank said she became aware of the problem about a week ago.

"I'm not going to define what pornography is or not," Wellbank said. "There has been sexually explicit material circulating."

State policy allows employees to send e-mail and search the Internet for personal use during breaks, yet it prohibits any use involving gambling, running a business or inappropriate or sexually inappropriate material.

Beth McLaughlin, the department's chief personnel officer, said these incidents are usually isolated and dealt with by managers on an individual basis. No department employee has ever been fired for abusing e-mail and Internet privileges.

The department plans to do additional training about appropriate use of state computers and equipment.

"Unfortunately any organization with technology or computers is faced with this issue," McLaughlin said. "The best thing to do is prevent it and when we come across situations follow up and deal with them."

McLaughlin said she's unsure how many of these cases are dealt with in state government each year.

Tony Herbert, who oversees the state's information services, didn't return phone calls Thursday.

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