None of your business

Big news last Friday when two AFL executives were basically sacked after having affairs with female subordinates.

It’s not a good look, and given these men are married with children, is pretty shabby – but since when is that sufficient to fire someone?

I can’t support these men, but I feel some disquiet over what’s happened because it sets up the employer as moral arbiter. More pointedly, it’s interference in personal lives.

In both cases the affairs were consensual. No-one did anything against their will. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, older executive with younger, more junior colleague, but that’s all it is. It may be questionable, but it’s not illegal, and it’s only vaguely immoral when the parties have other partners – but then, it happens all the time. What if we lived in a society whereby adultery led to instant dismissal? We don’t thankfully, yet these men have lost their jobs (but only because the media got hold of it).

The only possible justification I can see is if it directly impacts on job performance, in which case the reason for dismissal is performance. Otherwise it might contravene a code of conduct the employees have signed up to – but then I don’t think such a thing should be in a code of conduct. It becomes more understandable if it is part of a pattern and a broader culture of entitlement and abuse – which may be the case here. It’s not something that should be encouraged, and yet I’d bet if these guys chose to challenge their dismissal then the law would be on their side.

One of the things I find disturbing about this is the general acceptance that this is just. Officially these managers chose to resign, but only after a hefty push. There seem only a few who have questioned the justice of this, or pointed out that really this is nobody’s business but those involved. It feels to me that convention and public morality intrudes more and more upon our private lives. There is a gap – a necessary gap – between our private and public/professional lives that should be maintained, even if we choose to get hot and bothered with someone we work with.

Speaking for myself I’ve had multiple affairs with women I’ve worked with. Who hasn’t? It’s hardly unusual. I understand if it is frowned upon, but no corporation has the right to dictate my personal relationships. This is what has happened now though, these men have lost their jobs, the women humiliated, and the PR fallout very ugly – and for the most part we seem ready to accept it as fair. Why?

 

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