It’s not wrong, but you just don’t do it

Here’s the scenario: Damien Hardwick is a highly successful coach who has taken Richmond to the 2017, 2019 and 2020 premierships. Part of his shtick is to appeal to his players as a family man with strong values who fights the good fight; and he underlines this message by frequently referring to his wife, Danielle Hardwick, who he says has actively supported his coaching career.

So what happens when the coach suddenly waives the terms of his relationship with his players, as Hardwick did last month? When he says, well actually boys, that bit about values and strength and tenacity – I’ve given myself a get-out clause; and I’m now breaking up with Mrs Hardwick and I’m re-partnering with a much younger woman who works in our sales department at the club.

Hardwick’s situation was so tenuous that the Richmond Football Board had to formally announce that his relationship with the junior colleague was acceptable under the club’s policy.

WR Law’s principal, Rosa Raco, said on her regular Gold Central Victoria 98.3 FM radio interview that legally, Hardwick hadn’t broken any rules. “Many workplaces actually have a policy where co-worker relationships are not allowed,” she said. “But in Richmond’s case, they didn’t have such a policy.” Ms Raco said the situation was still obviously a worry for the club in that a clear power imbalance existed which is why they met to sign off on it.   

Ms Raco explained that the clauses prohibiting relationships in workplaces were there to prevent incidents of sexual harassment and subsequent litigation. She cited the case of David Jones CEO, Mark McInnes, who was successfully sued by a young female employee under the federal Sex Discrimination Act. And while no one is accusing Damien Hardwick of sexual harassment, he has almost certainly taken advantage of his position at the Richmond Football Club – taking what he wants, when he wants.

The much-esteemed AFL journalist Caroline Wilson says Hardwick has almost certainly undermined his credibility with the players. Speaking on the ABC’s Offsiders program she said, “this is a man who created a personal brand out of his partner, Mrs Hardwick…and I just reckon a lot of people at the club feel duped, the public feel duped, the supporters feel duped.”

It would appear that sometimes in the workplace, situations cannot always be seen through the lens of a legal clause but rather we judge it through another lens altogether – that of a moral compass.

This article has been prepared for information purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact WR Law directly on (03) 5499 6131 or by email at admin@wrlaw.com.au

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