Mr Key and his little ways. A look from an organisational point of view.

Caveat: This post was written in Facebook conversations last night and edited during breaks today. I’m wanting to get my thoughts out, but further edits may result. The sense will remain the same.

Recently the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. John Key gave his usual half-apology for the oversensitivity of a young woman who blogged anonymously about a series of incidents in which he pulled her ponytail.

Those of us in the real world, freaked out at the details – the creepy remarks, the unusual mind games and then later even further at the revelation this was part of an ongoing pattern of behaviour including pulling the hair – on camera – of a girl of approximately 10 years of age.

New Zealand being a very small pond, the anonymous victim’s cover was soon blown, and most recently a lawyer has started proceedings against Mr. Key alleging damages.

This matches the discussion online and in the media about John Key’s actions as harassing. Mr. Key is definitely harassing the Ms. Bailey in the vernacular sense, but from my experience in the workplace, it doesn’t fit the legal definition of a harassment case. Allow me to explain.

I have worked frontline in many libraries during my career. A customer who pulled the hair of a staff member would be asked to leave, and on the second attempt they’d likely be the subject of a trespass order.

It’s simply a different context to interactions between colleagues in a work place. In that situation, the harassment can be a misinterpreted gesture – say a colleague touches an arm, during a normal work conversation and the recipient finds it uncomfortable. Because both have a right to work there is a duty of care that allows for an explanation followed by monitoring for a change of behaviour. If the action (or pattern of harassment) doesn’t repeat – no organisational problem. Otherwise; consequences. The harassing employee is put on the path of warnings written and verbal, and ultimately dismissed if they cannot hold back from invading space.

The duty of care changes in a situation where staff work with the general public. The staff have the same right to a safe workplace, but the public’s attendance is a privilege predicated on their not harming the wellbeing of other users or the staff.

I have literally asked people to leave libraries I’ve worked in for telling colleagues to f… off, and been supported by management for doing so. Given this standard being commonplace, it’s obvious policy in reasonable workplaces prevents physical interference from members of the public.

Moving away from my experience, let’s look at a hypothetical. We’ll stay with the hospitality industry, but take out middle class mores and the adverse publicity and loss of income that comes with asking the PM to leave.

In a busy bar, an overly demanding patron grabs the waitress. She talks to the bouncer. He’s thrown out. End of story.

I find sometimes privilege arguments are over applied. Not here. A tony café has excused this customer’s conduct because the possible financial loss resulting from that customer’s annoyance vastly outweighs that which could be caused by a young woman employee.

Even in speaking up, she’s forced to do so anonymously to prevent harm to her negligent employer. And now, she’s exposed, and her future is very much damaged.

What’s worse, going to Mr. Key will not result in a payout. It’s her employer who hasn’t exercised a duty of care. It is they who should be sued. She may lay an assault charge against Mr. Key. It’s not at all certain the New Zealand Police will find sufficient cause to prosecute, and if he can be charged it will certainly not be at the aggravated end of the spectrum.

Mr. Key may find this is the straw that broke the Teflon camel’s back. That a discovery of moral repugnance may finally give the lie to his permanent affability, and cost him his job in the next election.

After that, he’s consigned to a fate of talking engagements, expensive dinners and appointments to prestigious post-Prime Ministerial roles and directorships granted to him by the mates he’s let at the trough over the term of his government. It’s a hard life.

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About seanmurgatroyd
Library (Shared blog): http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Personal including infoculture, book reviews: http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Music: http://seanfishmusic.wordpress.com/ Last.fm band page: http://www.last.fm/music/Seanfish @seanfish

2 Responses to Mr Key and his little ways. A look from an organisational point of view.

  1. David says:

    Interesting point of view, well written, BUT your hypothetical kinda dead ends. “he’s thrown out “, what if he’s not? Key wasn’t. In your hypothetical, if the bouncer doesn’t eject the grabber, is the bar owner legally liable?

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Yes, that’s the point. The bar owner is legally liable for interruptions to the wellbeing of staff and attendees. This is why organised workplaces are careful to record even the slightest scratch in Health and Safety incident logs. An incident occurred and was not effectively responded to.

      As for Key, were he not who he was, the police would not spend time prosecuting the incident as assault. There is no reason to do so. The most appropriate place for him to suffer the consequences of his actions here is politically, for it is that aspect of his person that changes the situation from everyday low level creepery. Or are we to jail every single cat caller?

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