Home' HR Monthly : May 2018 Contents 6
y now the dust has just about settled on the affair between
former deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, and his former
media adviser, Vikki Campion. In what was a daily headline
story over a number of weeks as the rest of us lazed on a beach or
were returning to work, the deputy PM insisted on telling us the
affair was none of our business, while the PM sprang into a pointed
assessment of the affair as a “world of woe” – followed by an
official statement banning ministers of the Commonwealth from
engaging in sexual relationships with their staff. The penalty for a
breach being instant dismissal from the ministry.
A few days later a charm offensive broke out from both sides
with a call for heels to be cooled and numbers to be counted before
parliament resumed. Both individuals are experienced negotiators,
albeit from different schools of negotiation, and so the stoush
guaranteed that little governing would be done as public and media
interest in the matter persisted until it died of fatigue or the deputy
PM resigned, which eventually happened.
Aside from the media attention, this incident is a reminder of
what HR professionals and business leaders regularly deal with in
workplaces across the country: the conf lict between private life and
Dealing with these issues has required acknowledgement of their
impact on the workplace and a requirement for supportive policy
from leaders of the organisation that focuses on examining the
source of the problem rather than succumbing to the temptation to
sweep it under the carpet or some similarly ostrich-like response.
Are there lessons to be learnt from the stand-off between our
prime minister and his then deputy about how to better manage
affairs in the workplace when they occur?
The prime minister declared that the ban on sexual relationships
between ministers and their staff was to align with contemporary
standards in business. In summary, modern corporations place
obligations on individuals holding senior leadership positions to
act ethically, honestly and in good faith; to uphold the values of the
organisation; to provide a fit, proper and safe workplace for the
conduct of work; to protect the rights of all employees; and to act in
a way consistent with modern community values.
No unilateral ban on consensual sex, or anything resembling it,
The evidence is that sexual relationships between co -workers are
common. Relationships Australia has stated that around 40 per
cent of long-term relationships develop between co -workers. At a
US Families and Work Institute conference I attended in 2013, the
figure of 47 per cent was proposed to indicate the proportion of
co-workers who have at least one intimate sexual relationship with
another co -worker during their career.
Into this broadly comparable set of statistics can be read the
ex istence of short-term workplace relationships and affairs that
often end abruptly because some breach or infringement of third-
party rights is detected after the affair is outed.
Circumstances of that order drive a three-part principled response
by better contemporary employers. The first is that co -workers who
find themselves in an intimate relationship are strongly encouraged
to declare it to an independent party at their workplace. If they
don’t, it’s inevitable they will be outed by their colleagues in
response to body language and other giveaway signs.
The second principle is for an independent person at the
workplace to ensu re that the relationship does not lead to a
conflict of interest, or infringe the rights of third-party workers, or
improperly use the organisation’s resou rces. If both principles of
declaration and independent checks are invoked, the relationship
generally continues with goodwill from others in the workplace.
A third principle that applies in some organisations, especially US
subsidiaries, can require workers to sign a waiver which removes the
employer from legal responsibility. This protects the organisation
when, say, a relationship sours and one or both co-workers attempt
to sue the company for facilitating the relationship.
Malcolm Turnbull’s sex ban is in reality less of a ban and
more of a consequence predictor: you can retain your
ministerial portfolio or your affair with a staffer, but
not both, the PM appears to be saying. Whatever he
says, the new rule will not stop sexual relationships
developing between ministers and staff. Like
Prohibition, it will force the activity underground and
ensure the participants work harder to cover their tracks,
so the sex police will have to work even harder to track
Hopefully, a more sensible solution will emerge
that might also enable the ministerial code
of conduct to command respect and operate
properly. When that happens, the sex police
can get back to real police work. •••
Affairness or not
Is this a job for the sex police?
BY PETER WILSON AM FCPHR AHRI CHAIRMAN
To read past Perspective columns by
Peter Wilson, visit hrmonline.com.au
23/4/18 4:34 pm
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