Recently my eye was drawn to the headline: “PC caught having sex on duty reinstated because his firearm was within reach”. For purely professional reasons, obviously, one reads on.
PC Shaun Jenkins was the sort of upstanding individual Gwent residents would want and expect to be a part of their local police force, a recipient of official commendations for courageously preventing suicides and bringing brawling thugs to justice. However, whilst on armed patrol duty one day, he slipped off for a 40-minute tryst with a married woman in his house, leaving his colleague in the patrol car outside. Quite what the colleague thought Jenkins was doing is not reported. The outraged woman’s husband reported the incident and Jenkins was dismissed for gross misconduct. However, he appealed to the Independent Police Tribunal and has now been reinstated.
The somewhat bemusing reasoning behind the reinstatement decision included that his actions did not pose a risk to public safety because he could have been back on duty “within a minute or two” (presumably somewhat flustered) and that he was still contactable by radio; the delay was akin to his taking a tea break or going to the toilet (for 40 minutes?); and his weapon was never out of his control as it was still attached to him, albeit in a holster around his ankles. As mitigation goes it seems a bit marginal to me, but on such fine points do careers turn, apparently.
One might agree with the Independent Police Complaints Commission that Jenkins’ reinstatement undermines public confidence in the credibility of the police discipline system. After all, it would not be deemed acceptable behaviour in most employments, let alone for those who carry firearms. Perhaps Gwent Police’s and Jenkins’ definition of “providing service to the public” is somewhat broader than one might normally have anticipated.
There is no law saying that people cannot have sex while at work, but an employer does have a right to expect some minimum standards of behaviour on company time. With longer working hours, romantic relationships in the workplace have inevitably increased. Apparently 1 in 10 have had sex in the workplace and almost 40% have had a relationship with a co-worker, according to this particularly highbrow little survey.
You hope that your employees will have the common sense to act discreetly and for any such romance not to impact adversely on their working performance. Just as you surely would not need a policy declaring “Smearing the walls of your office with marmalade may result in disciplinary action”, you might assume the same would apply for “sex in working hours”. However, surely we are not at the point suggested in one Australian case (see David Whincup’s blog of 17 September 2012) where the employer was disconcertingly held liable for injuries sustained to an employee while having sex on a business trip, due to the absence of any clear instruction that she should not?
The unappealing prospect of an harassment claim when a relationship between two employees turns sour or of having to deal with a distracted, love-struck and under-performing employee has led many employers to provide formal or informal policies on managing office romances. Something relatively commonplace in the US and sadly becoming more popular in the UK is the request that employees sign up to a “love contract”. 50 Shades readers may, however, be disappointed – this commonly requires an employee to reveal any in-house romantic relationship to management, confirming its consensual nature and typically includes a number of employee undertakings such as that the relationship will not have a negative impact on work and there will be no public displays of affection or other behaviour that might create a hostile, offensive or, frankly just embarrassing work environment for others. Bit of a mood-killer, really.
While the reinstatement decision taken in the Jenkins case may at first seem surprising, perhaps it came down to Gwent Police not making it clear enough such activity would constitute gross misconduct with the consequence that had he not been reinstated, it may have faced losing any subsequent claim. One can imagine deflated senior officers struggling to provide a comprehensive list of all the other things you should not do while wearing a gun on the job. The mind boggles.