Smithson: Romance always a risky affair in the workplace
The sad decline and fall of Canada’s Brigadier General Daniel Menard came to a close last week.
It proved that, for everyone including generals, workplace romances remain a risky affair.
Menard was dismissed last year from duties in Afghanistan amid allegations of having engaged in an “inappropriate relationship” with a female soldier.
Press stories at the time spoke of the Canadian military’s “blanket ban on soldiers engaging in intimate relationships in a war zone.”
Experts were quoted calling this rule an “unwinnable fight against human nature.”
Clinical sex therapist Sue McGarvie said that soldiers “are in an incredibly difficult situation and looking for comfort and we are expecting them to be automatons.”
She went on to state, “You cannot fight it—put adults together in any situation and you’re going to have sex and intimacy.”
Last week, Menard, a former “rising star” in Canadian military ranks, faced a military judge and was charged with having improper relations with a soldier under his command and trying to impede the investigation into the affair.
He faced up to two years in prison but pleaded guilty to the two charges.
He ended up being fined $7,000 and was
given a symbolic demotion to colonel—because he already retired from the military he will retain his prior rank and pension benefits.
He had been removed from his command role in Afghanistan and had his responsibilities reassigned and now he will have a criminal record.
The judge characterized Menard’s actions as having “happened in the worst place, at the worst time—in a theatre of operation.”
He cited Menard’s betrayal of the trust of his soldiers and chided him for having failed to set an example.
According to Menard, upon his return from
Afghanistan he was ostracized by other officers and he no longer felt part of the generals’ “club.”
He is presently unemployed. A former military official commented to the news media that
Menard’s actions were “reprehensible conduct of the highest order.”
I wonder whether such strict rules—apparently applicable only to war zones—really make a whole lot of sense.
Is it really necessary to completely wreck a talented officer’s career over an illicit liaison (in a battle zone or not)?
As adults, the reality is that many of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work—the workplace is our primary venue for social interaction.
Surveys have indicated that over one-half of employees have been romantically involved with a co-worker and almost one-fifth of employees met their spouse at work.
The problem with the supervisor-subordinate (or general-corporal) romance, of course, is the power imbalance between the two.
The prospect that the supervisor may abuse his or her authority in the course of the relationship is of great concern to employers.
Regardless, the blanket sex ban applicable to members of the military seems particularly harsh.
Soldiers are expected to live in close quarters, in remote locations, away from home for months at a time.
They are placed in the most stressful of circumstances and they are largely confined to a base along with their co-workers.
In this setting, can we really expect them to remain celibate?
It seems that the “fraternization” rule is considered necessary to uphold discipline.
That may be the case, but even military organizations need to keep up with the times and it seems anachronistic to adhere to the notion that adults can’t do their job and have sex (although, I’ll concede, likely not at the same time).
Maybe our armed forces personnel can be trusted with forming and regulating their own social relationships. Especially if banning intimacy simply means that it is going to be carried on in secrecy.
Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.