In announcing his intention to resign as Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce apologised to his girlfriend for the attention put on her, but other key figures were noticeably absent: his staff.
Given the context of this scandal, Mr Joyce’s staff are surely deserving of an apology. Particularly given they now the face the possibility of losing their jobs, through no fault of their own.
Parliament is, afterall, a workplace. It is the place where parliamentarians congregate to carry out the duties for which they get paid an awful lot. It is also where many of their close staff, including assistants and media advisers, work alongside them to carry on the business of government. And these close advisers are generally chosen by the resident politician.
Mr Joyce and his new girlfriend Vikki Campion worked together for some time, with her employed as his media adviser. While it has been denied, it remains unclear whether their affair began while they still worked directly together.
It is possible that some, if not all, of Mr Joyce’s staff were aware to some degree of what was happening. But how much did they know, and did this cross a professional line? For instance:
- Did they feel compelled or even forced to keep their boss’ affair secret?
- Were they made to endure discomfort by exposure to flirtation, comments or innuendo while at work?
- Did Ms Campion appear to receive special treatment and rewards during work hours?
- Would Ms Campion have been eligible, or the ideal candidate for, an inter-departmental transfer had there been no personal relationship with Mr Joyce?
By no means am I accusing anyone of any wrongdoing, nor has there - at least to my knowledge, at the time of writing - been any proof of wrongdoing identified. My point is simply that any business can be thrust into the spotlight because of the private actions of its employees and managers. And the ramifications spread far beyond just the individual or couple, many of which may not be apparent at first glance – such as the implications on the broader workforce.
A business owner will naturally be concerned with the potential damage to their firm. But, as an employer, there is also a legal obligation to protect employees.
Thankfully, there are steps an employer can take to manage complex personal relationships in the workplace.
Whatever the truth of this scenario, and regardless even of one’s own political leanings, this case highlights that personal relationships can and do have a material impact on an organisation. And as such, employers should use the opportunity to take stock of potential threats from within their business, before they reach crisis stage.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.