Key HR lessons from Matt Hancock’s recent resignation

A few weekends ago, we saw Matt Hancock resign from his position as Health Secretary over the breaking of COVID-19 social distancing rules while having an affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo.

Whilst the world of political reporting and the mainstream broadcasters will focus on the implications of his resignation in the world of politics – anyone in an HR role like we are was sat at home thinking;

  • Did Matt Hancock know there was CCTV in his office?
  • How did the CCTV footage of him and an aide get out?
  • How did Coladangelo get into parliament, or get a parliamentary pass?
  • Were there rules in place about misconduct such as this in the workplace?
  • Should Boris Johnson have sacked Matt Hancock before he resigned?

There are many HR takeaways to be learnt for employers from this recent incident which include questions over following workplace rules, social distancing, the way employees conduct work business, hiring, workplace conduct and severance pay, so read on to find out more about key HR Takeaways from this incident.

Recruitment Process

Many news outlets, including the BBC, are leading with the fact that Hancock and Coladangelo knew each other from Oxford University, before she took on work as an aide and then a Director’s role at the Department for Health and Social care.

It is obvious they are well connected and it seems to run close to the line regards Government rules in place around the hiring of individuals if there are conflicts of interest or connections prior to the employment.

Additionally, according to her LinkedIn profile, it doesn’t appear that Coladangelo had any prior expertise in health or health organisation management.

If HR were more closely involved in the recruitment process, they would’ve likely emphasised that relying on an ‘old boys’ network of mates to find suitable candidates, rather than advertising properly for a role and attracting and hiring the best person for the job would be a better route to hiring.

In fact, it also raises questions about equality and diversity in the recruitment process too – both of which have well-known benefits for organisational performance.

Social distancing breach

With Hancock filmed kissing and cuddling Coladangelo, many of the calls for him to step down from his job prior to resignation, centred around the breaking of COVID-19 workplace regulations. Other MPs, including Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who chairs a group on coronavirus, said that Hancock was being a hypocrite.

If you are a leader creating rules for people to follow and don’t then follow these rules yourself, you lose the respect of your team. It could well have been that Matt Hancock was under a great deal of stress and pressure for a sustained period of time and we all know that we don’t necessarily make the best decisions when we are stressed or exhausted.

For business owners and people managers, the key takeaways here include having to consider the pressure that you or your leaders may be under and looking out for signs of “burnout” and understanding how burnout might impair good decision making.

If you are a business owner or business leader, then think about the messages you are sending out to your teams via your actions and ensure that you are operating a business where fairness and good role modelling is at the centre of how you operate.

Using private emails for personal work

According to a Sunday Times exclusive, Hancock used a personal email account for Government work – including deals involving PPE and track and trace.

Official guidelines state that where Government business is conducted using private email addresses, steps should be taken “to ensure the relevant information is accessible”.

Whilst the rules around use of email will be different for all businesses, what cannot be disputed though is that all employers need to ensure that all work-related matters are conducted using a company email address – this is common sense isn’t it, but does your IT/Data Protection Policy state this?

To use a private email address for work related matters can create data security issues and can potentially result in gross misconduct.

Non-work-related activities on company time

What has aggrieved many following the Hancock affair story is that, alongside the breach of coronavirus social distancing guidelines, he was using work time, during a pandemic, to conduct an affair.

Amanda Lennon, Employment Partner at Spencer West, a city law firm, said that if an individual is using work time to do non-work activity, remedial action is usually appropriate. She said: “If this situation arises, the employer’s course of action will depend on how much time the non-work-related activity is taking and if it is interfering with the employee’s job and performance and their output of work. If there are issues, there is clearly an option for an employer to discuss the matter with the employee and if necessary, take remedial action, including disciplinary proceedings if appropriate.”

In addition, Sarah Simcott, Head of Employment and Legal Executive at Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors said: “This is potentially an issue of the employee failing to dedicate their whole time and attention to their duties, which results as a disciplinary issue. Any action in regard to this, rests on following the employers’ own disciplinary procedures and/or the ACAS code of practice.”

Affair at work

Caught within non-work activities at work is the emotional issue of affairs at work – something that Hancock and Coladangelo were involved in. According to Adzuna data, almost 75% of staff would consider a romantic relationship at work whilst almost half, according to Reboot Digital Marketing, had experienced one.

This can be a difficult and sensitive area for employers to navigate where policies are tricky to enforce and communication with both parties is likely to be the best way forward. Many employers have policies to prohibit workplace relationships or require employees to disclose them. However, these can be tricky to enforce as you are dealing with employees’ private lives and so employers should tread carefully.  What we do know is that plenty of people meet their partner at work, and so it is sensible to encourage couples to come forward and be open and honest about their relationship, rather than driving them underground. That way, if there is any conflict of interest, you can deal with it. For example, it may be best for the couple to work in different teams.  It’s important to have an open two-way conversation before any action is taken to minimise the risk of any ongoing issues and potential complaints that one employee is being treated less favourably than the other in the couple.

Severance pay

In many companies, there are redundancy and severance pay agreements in place for outgoing staff – especially if they are senior manager or Director.

And, according to Government employment rules, ministers who are under 65 and leave office – whether sacked or resigning, are entitled to a quarter of their salary on resignation. This would mean that Hancock is in line for over £16,000. If he had been dismissed for any or all of the reasons we stated above, its unlikely that he would have been entitled to anything. Discuss?!