Sex with work colleague is just playing with fire
The Dominion Post – Tuesday 29 October 2013
COMMODORE Kevin Keat was recently dismissed from the Defence Force following an affair with an unnamed female civilian subordinate. At the time of his dismissal he was the assistant chief of personnel – the navy’s third highest position.
This saga has two different aspects to it. The first is the sexual relationship with the subordinate which went on for a reasonable length of time. The affair commenced in 2008 and Keat, who is married, claimed it ended in 2010. The woman disagreed and claimed it went through to December 2012.
The second element of the Keat story is his failure to be honest about it. Chief Judge Chris Hodson QC, who presided over the court martial, found Keat had been deceitful about the nature, extent and origins of the relationship. We are told the chief of the Defence Force asked Keat to ‘‘sort it out’’ but no steps were taken to end the personal relationship. Both elements of Commodore Keat’s behaviour are serious. A sexual relationship with a subordinate is always dangerous because of the obvious imbalance in power between the parties. However, things may well have gone further in this instance, with the woman claiming that Keat made her lie to her superiors and the court martial finding he used threatening language.
In an employment relationship, we are repeatedly told by the courts and by the parties to a relationship just how important trust and confidence is.
Both parties have an obligation of good faith which includes being honest and communicative with each other, and doing what they can to promote trust and confidence. Indeed when trust and confidence is seriously eroded or destroyed by the behaviour of an employee, the employer is ordinarily entitled to end the relationship. This is especially evident in an organisation like the Defence Force where survival in a combat situation may be dependent on well-placed trust.
Accordingly, trust is a core value even in a non-combat situation such as this.
A relatively recent case in the Auckland area shows how in different circumstances the dice fell quite differently for an employee who engaged in sex with her manager. In that case the managing director of a timber company had an illicit sexual relationship with an employee which went on for three or four years. When the managing director’s wife became aware of the situation, the old response of hiring a private investigator was embraced. The investigator observed the worker and managing director together in the islands where they were supposed to be on a business trip.
The managing director subsequently admitted to the affair and was promptly shown the door. Things did not end there apparently. The employee claimed that although she tried to break off the relationship after being confronted by the managing director’s wife, he continued to pursue her. She pointed to one night where he asked her to visit him at his motel room and allegedly threatened her job if she did not have sex with him.
The employee subsequently resigned claiming she had been sexually harassed by the managing director.
The Employment Relations Authority was not convinced and found no inappropriate behaviour had occurred. The managing director did not continue to ‘‘hit on’’ the employee inappropriately and although the parties did have sex, there was no threat to terminate her employment.
The end result was that she received nothing. Clearly the two cases are worlds apart.
Sex within the office is so often the source of problems, especially when one of the parties is married and more so when they have managerial responsibility for the other participant.
Even though there was no finding of inappropriate behaviour, the case involving the timber company shows it is very hard for people to continue to work with each other after an affair. Normally, a woman in a subordinate role is likely to receive the sympathy of the court and any manager having sex with a subordinate in the office is playing with fire.