Why you shouldn’t sleep with a work colleague


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 My dear nanna always said never get your meat where you get your bread. She was a wise woman, old Doris Maude, and her advice had nothing to do with your grocery shopping. In fact, I get my eggs where I get my meat, and sometimes my milk where I get my bread. But, not once have I ever got my meat where I get my bread.

Perhaps the AFL’s Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss, and the women they conducted their “inappropriate relationships” with, Maddi Blomberg and Ali Gronow, should have paid heed to Dot’s advice.

So too Tim Worner and Amber Harrison.

So too the people involved in the estimated 40 per cent of relationships which start in the office.

My nanna knew, even back in the early 1900s, and even though she was a working woman herself, that workplace romances can be fraught with danger.

But, dear nan, you have to admit that things were probably different back in the 1920s when you met pop. Then, I can only imagine, you met people at dances and church, through family and friends.

Now so many of us spend too much time in the office, working long hours, travelling, socialising out of hours. Particularly here in Canberra, where many of us are from somewhere else, your work circle becomes your friendship circle and that limits your options.

I’m sure that there are many flourishing relationships in workplaces. And good luck to you people. Love is hard to find.

But what happens when love goes wrong, or indeed it’s the wrong kind of love? And how do we define “inappropriate relationships”?

Is it wrong that two grown adults, regardless of whether or not they are already in a relationship, decide that there’s something between them and act on that?

According to some statistics 85 per cent of affairs begin in the workplace. We’ve all seen it happen. Two people, brought together in some branch, spending late nights, long hours, away from all the banality of home life. Suddenly your spouse doesn’t seem as interesting, as interested, and you cross that line of “work wife” into a grey area that you find yourself enjoying, enjoying the attention.

Imagine if the Australian Public Service ran like the AFL, that when say, married men began affairs with subordinates, and it became in-house knowledge, that resignations were forthcoming. Half, nay perhaps three-quarters, of our departments would probably shut down.

John Wilson, one of Canberra’s leading employment lawyers and the managing legal director at Bradley Allen Love, wrote a great article back in 2014, for Public Sector Informant about the pitfalls of office romances in the APS.

“Even Australian Public Service employees, are entitled to a private life,” he wrote, “and however (inappropriately) they choose to pursue this outside of work in a manner not involving their employment, their employer can have little legitimate involvement.”

But, he says, the key qualifier is that private activities involving APS staff can be the subject of workplace scrutiny, including disciplinary action and even termination.

“APS employees must abide by the code of conduct provisions of the Public Service Act. Among other things, the code requires that ‘an APS employee, when acting in connection with APS employment, must treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment’. Relationship breakdowns, or unwanted sexual advances, can be easily construed as harassment, or conduct lacking respect and courtesy.”

He cites a number of cases where things have ended badly. It’s not terribly romantic reading but sometimes, in those first flushes of lust, a good dose of realism is what’s needed.

The idea that there’s the chance of litigation if a relationship ends badly, and you only have to read up on the story involving Worner and Harrison to know that things can get pretty nasty pretty quickly, is enough to deflate any lustful feeling.

Part of me thinks the workplace has no business in personal affairs, that unless a situation is affecting the workplace, say, where someone in a senior position is favouring a subordinate they’re in a relationship with, really just let people get on with their lives.

Lethlean has come out talking about respect and responsibility. I’m sure he felt all that towards the AFL, just not his wife and family.

So, as nan would say, it’s probably best not to shop at the one place, put all your eggs in the one basket, so to speak, or buy too many sausages.

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