Poor and excellent leadership in action

4 Mar 2015
Author: Andrea Twaddle

On Monday, the Human Rights Review Tribunal ordered NZ Credit Union Baywide to pay $168,070 to its former employee, Karen Hammond, for various breaches of privacy. The case began after Ms Hammond iced a cake with derogatory comments about her former employer in an effort to cheer up a colleague who had settled an employment dispute with the company. A picture of the cake was posted on her private Facebook page. When NZCU Baywide heard about the picture, it bullied another employee to show it the photo, from which an image was taken. The photo was then used by the company which contacted recruitment agencies and pressured businesses not to employ her. Ms Hammond challenged those actions as being in breach of her privacy, malicious and unlawful. The Tribunal agreed.

Despite learning of bullying, stress, and other claims on a daily basis in my work, the actions of Ms Hammond’s former employer are relatively astonishing. Perhaps more so when compared to the leadership being celebrated in the KiwiBank New Zealander of the Year awards this past week. The judging panel of the Awards commented:

“Each of these individuals is extraordinary. Some have worked tirelessly to making other Kiwis better off while others have inspired us through being the very best at their chosen fields.”

Sir Steven Tindall was the overall winner of the NZ of the Year Awards, and the Waikato’s Cynthia Ward, CEO of the True Colours Children’s Health Trust was a semi-finalist. Their contribution to organisations and their community are remarkable. The Tindall Foundation, co-founded by Sir Stephen, together with his wife, supports community-based initiatives, enterprise and social services, and supports the environment. Sir Steven has also invested significantly in start-up and early stage businesses, providing opportunity, guidance and support for others in business. Sir Stephen ascribes to the leadership philosophy that “it’s all about getting the best out of people and treating people the way you want to be treated yourself.”

Cynthia Ward, a palliative care nurse specialist, founded True Colours in 2004, developing an integrated model of care to support children and young people who live with serious illnesses to receive the nursing care and psychological support they require, together with the related needs of their siblings, parents and members of their family unit. In inspiring others, she leads an organisation that has now supported over 1,000 families in the greater Waikato.

Based on the Tribunal’s judgment, it would be difficult to describe the actions of leaders at NZCU Baywide as inspiring. Leadership in business is often taken for granted, yet the consequences of poor leadership can be incredibly damaging to a business. Besides the known costs of high staff turnover, high sick leave, low productivity and other commonalities linked to a workplace with poor leadership, employers can be exposed to liability where leadership fails, such as for claims of institutional bullying, where the workplace’s practices, structures or expectations place unreasonable burdens on employees.

Legally, there is much for businesses to take away from the Tribunal’s judgment with regard to managing privacy in employment. It should be a wake-up call for employers who have held a traditionally laissez faire attitude towards employee privacy. Employers need to ensure that those responsible for storing personal information about individuals are trained on their obligations to protect that information and not disclose or use it without legal means. However, it is worth stepping back from that for a moment to consider our roles within a workplace, the type of leader we want to be, or the type of leader we want to work for. Working with or for thoughtful, community spirited leaders has my vote.

Article first published by the Waikato Times, 4 March 2015

Poor and excellent leadership in action
About the Author
Andrea Twaddle
Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer and Director at DTI Lawyers. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea is AWI-CH qualified, and undertakes complex workplace investigations. She is a member of the national Law Society Employment Law Reform Committee, a former Council Member at the WBOP District Branch of the Law Society, and Coordinator of the WBOP Employment Law Committee. Andrea is a sought-after commentator and speaker on employment law issues at client and industry seminars. She provides specialist, strategic advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams. You can contact Andrea at andrea@dtilawyers.co.nz