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Banker sacked over workplace affair – major workplace problems caused by poor leadership and perceptions of favouritism 

The notion of a manager conducting affairs with junior staff and favouring their promotion prospects is fraught with danger for the entire workplace. It is certainly not the act of a leader.

This was underlined when the Fair Work Commission endorsed a major bank’s decision to sack a married banker who lied about having a six-month affair with a female subordinate.

 

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"To be blunt it should be obvious to any reasonably intelligent person that for a manager in an organisation such as (the bank) to form a romantic relationship with a direct subordinate creates the potential for a conflict of interest," the Commissioner said.

The male bank manager was removed after advocating for his lover’s promotion and pay rise from $58,000 to $90,000, telling his supervisor she was being headhunted by another business, while denying the fact he was having an affair with his subordinate, "Ms A".

The 36-year-old started as a teller two years after finishing high school and worked his way up over the next 16 years to the bank manager role at the regional NSW branch. The six-month-affair with the personal banker in his team had started in February 2014 and the pair moved in a month later

When his supervisor brought up the rumours of the affair, he denied there was anything going on between him and Ms A. Later the banker told his supervisor there had been no conflict of interest in because Ms A was a high performer. It was not until after the relationship fell apart, in August, he decided to tell his supervisor about the relationship.

During the cross-examination, the banker said he lied about the relationship because, as a married man of 12 years with two young children, he was "quite ashamed and embarrassed" about the affair. "I hadn't spoken to family, friends, wife, absolutely no one about it," he said.

The supervisor said if he had disclosed the affair to him, the bank would have made arrangements to move either of them to another nearby branch so Ms A no longer directly reported to him.

According to a colleague's evidence, the couple "arrived at the branch together, they had lunch together, and they spent a lot of time in each other's offices and left the branch together at the end of the work day". When the colleague tried to change Ms A's lunch break by 15 minutes for a business reason, Ms A complained to the banker, who banged the table and said: "under no circumstances are you to change [Ms A's] lunch break time".

Even after Ms A got seconded to another branch, the banker started visiting the other branch, spending most of his day with Ms A, performing small tasks for her, such as her photocopying, a colleague told the tribunal.

When his supervisor questioned the banker about the frequent meetings he had with Ms A behind locked doors at the new branch, the banker said he spent time with Ms A to "help in her development for a new home finance role", and the door was faulty.

Eventually the rumours about their affair broke out among the staff in the branch. The banker told his team members the rumour has to stop, otherwise there would be "instant dismissal".

The Commission found the failure to disclose the relationship was "greatly compounded" when the banker lied about the relationship. The banker went to "considerable lengths" to help her get a promotion and he should have disclosed the relationship to his supervisor at least from the time they moved in together, the Commissioner said.

Effective modern leaders work to increase the performance of teams and individuals, and to retain high-calibre employees. Favouring certain employees over others as per the above example militates against team harmony and productivity objectives.

To put it in the words of the banker’s employer, “(I) believe you have appreciated the seriousness or extent of the failure of your leadership… what you fail to appreciate is that there is an inherent conflict in creating a situation whereby there is a perception of favouritism from other subordinate is in the branch. The fact that I directly asked you to confirm the affair was a result of "office talk" which reached me. "Office talk" is fundamentally counter-productive to a high performing environment.”

iHR’s leadership program, ‘I’m a Leader, I’m a Coach’ helps workplace leaders to recognise the important role they also can play as a leader and coach, including leadership behaviours and handling difficult situations.

 

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