17 August 2011

A recent thread in Integrity Talking Points is the duty which employees have, not to bring disrepute to the organisation they work for.  Generally, what someone does away from the workplace should not be a concern of their employer unless the incident, the employee and the employer would be interconnected in the eyes of a reasonable member of the public. Obvious examples are when employees wear their employers uniform or use their employer’s resources at the time of the precipitating behaviour.  But publicity or the potential for publicity that could bring the employer into disrepute seems also to meet the misconduct test.

The State Servants are required by the code of conduct to…”avoid any activities, work or non-work, that may harm the reputation of our organisation or of the State services”.

Behaviour that is unlawful or displays a breach of trust fall reasonably readily into the category of activities to be avoided. Employees in the State sector after all, are obliged to be responsible and trustworthy.  But what other circumstances cross the line into being disreputable and punishable by an employer?

A titillating article in the media reports the internet publication of photos of a pilot and a cabin crew member. The photos feature the pair in compromising activities in an aircraft cockpit, wearing recognisable parts of their employer’s uniform. They lost their jobs. Did their behaviour harm the reputation of the airline? Was the behaviour unlawful or untrustworthy?

Would New Zealanders expect Air New Zealand to dismiss employees in similar circumstances?  Air New Zealand is not included in the SSC list of “wider state sector organsations”. But as Air New Zealand is majority owned by the government, do its staff fall within the Cabinet Manual specification that all employees in the State sector are to be “fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy”?