7 July 2011

The chief executive of the NZ Employers’ and Manufacturers’ Association has lost his job. He made public comments which brought castigating media attention to his organisation. His comments were readily edited into very unattractive sound bites. His organisation risked portrayal as discriminatory and misogynistic.

A responsibility of all employees is to do nothing that will bring disrepute to their employer.  In the State Services this duty is explained as part of the obligation to be trustworthy;  “We must avoid activities, work or non work, that may harm the  reputation of our organisation or the State Services.”  The State Services Commissioner’s guidance explains that this means that officials must avoid being connected publicly with behaviour that creates a sense of public disquiet, and that, implicitly, diminishes trust in the State Services.

The guidance alerts its readers to “the likely public perception of the appropriateness of what we do, and the “angle” that commentators may adopt if there is media reporting of our activities”.  Discriminatory and misogynistic comments shared with the media would conflict with the trustworthiness standard, regardless of any rights to free speech.

A finding from research undertaken during the development of the State Services code was that members of the public expect higher standards of government agency staff than they do of the private sector. The furore over the comments by the former EMU chief executive suggests that may not always be the case.

As interesting historical coincidences, on this day

  • In 1942, at Auschwitz, experiments began on women under Himmler’s directions,
  • in 1948 the first women were accepted into regular service with the US Navy,
  • in 1958 the first women cadets were admitted to the US military academy at Westpoint
  • in 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated as the first female judge of the US Supreme Court.