An HR Officer’s not so youthful indiscretion and seven, er five-day suspension

The following post is not intended for folks under 18. People offended by delicate matters that rhyme with cerebral cortex may want to move along and read something else next door. Thank you.

With that out of the way — the last time I posted an item on sex, it was about that poor diplomat subjected to a barrage of allegations in the press and the internets about a sex tape with those darn honeytrappers in Moscow. Remember that?  It got so bad that our ambassador to Moscow had to officially complain about it?  We must confess that we still get a lot of blog traffic on that one single post from really, really strange, places, far, far, away searching for “rossian seks vedyos.”

It may be that the following post would attract similar attention in the interwebs but the item below is really quite hideous; like a train wreck, we just could not blog away from it.

The indiscretion is officially called “poor judgment.”

And the man obviously has not heard the saying — don’t get your nookie where you get your cookie. Or if he heard it, did not take that advice seriously enough.

The unnamed individual, a first tour HR Officer engaged in a “personal sexual relationship with a Foreign Service National candidate for a position in his office.”  He also did not report his nookie to the RSO and had argued that he was “unaware of the security regulations regarding contacts with criterion country nationals,” and that his selection of the FSN with whom he had the sexual relationship for a position in his office was based on “purely objective factors, not on the relationship.”

Seriously, that’s on paper.

The following is republished from a redacted Record of Proceeding of the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) which is online here as a public record.

Grievant, a first-tour Human Resources Specialist (HRO), engaged in a personal sexual relationship with a Foreign Service National (FSN) candidate for a position in his office.  After the relationship became known within the Embassy, the candidate withdrew from consideration for the job.  Grievant voluntarily curtailed from post and was transferred to Washington.

After investigation by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Department proposed to suspend grievant for seven days due to his failure to report contact with a criterion country national and for poor judgment (pursuing a sexual extramarital relationship with a candidate for employment under his supervision).  The grievant argues, inter alia, that he was unaware of the security regulations regarding contacts with criterion country nationals, and that his selection of the FSN with whom he had the sexual relationship for a position in his office was based on purely objective factors, not on the relationship.  Moreover, he argues that the punishment proposed is excessive when compared to punishment imposed in similar cases.

The Board agreed with the Department that, as an HRO assigned to a criterion country, grievant should have been aware of the security regulations regarding contact with host country nationals, and should have been aware that his actions were improper or at least had the appearance thereof.  However, the Board found the penalty imposed unduly harsh when compared to other cases involving similar offenses.  Accordingly, the Board mitigated the seven-day suspension to five days.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board HELD:  The Department met its burden with respect to proving charges of 1) Failure to Report Contact with a Criterion Country National and 2) Poor Judgment.  It failed, however, to meet the burden of establishing that the penalty imposed on grievant was reasonable.  Accordingly, the seven-day suspension was mitigated to five days.

And he was the Human Resources Officer, too! Which made us take out our ever reliable scale to see which is way heavier – that he had power over the job candidate and took advantage of the er, opportunity, or that he was the HR talent in place but was “unaware of the security regulations regarding contacts with criterion country nationals?”

On the “failure to report” charge, the grievant’s position outlined in the FSGB filing says in part :

In his view, “the amount and variety of training subjects covered in a short period of time can be quite overwhelming.  …I cannot recall the training and briefing.”  He adds that he understands the severity of the charge and regrets any mistake he might have made.

Grievant also argues that “The fact that he and {name} were both married should not be considered as an aggravating factor.  He did not know that {name} was married as she did not wear a ring.  Further, “the state of my marriage and of {name}’s should be considered private and exempt from review by my place of employment.  I do not believe that any regulation or authority allows this facet of my life to be considered when making an administrative determination.”

What’s that?  Yes, we realize it takes two to tango — but what was he thinking? Perhaps he wasn’t thinking? Oh, let’s not go there …

As an official overseas in a position of power, this is just plain wrong. There is no ifs or buts about it, even if the other party is willing. You’re the boss and the hiring official …. considering local applicants for a vacancy in your own section … and you get your nookie from one of the applicants?

It seems like “poor judgment” is an understatement; kind of like calling Tabasco ketchup, doesn’t it?
The redacted Record of Proceeding of FSGB No. 2009-031  is posted over at the FSGB’s Fred Flintstone’s website (where documents are made available in Word documents only, and where the search function only works if you know the magic keywords to use). We’re not going to repost the whole thing here but it’s a “must-read” if only to look over other cases involving similar offenses that the grievant cited in his filings. Use
“2009-031” in the document search field here.  A most interesting thing though — most of the cases we’ve seen that are of this nature, have often cited FSGB No.2003-045, a 2002 case where a DCM was only suspended for three days (and whose extra-curricular activities were only found out a tour or so later when he was being vetted for an ambassadorship).   

Wait — you mean sex is actually in the Foreign Affairs Manual?

But, of course — there are all sorts of things in the FAM — and sex, also — take a look:

3 FAM 4139.1 Sexual Activity
(TL:PER-303; 11-08-1995)
(Uniform State/USAID/USIA)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees)

The agencies recognize that, in our society, there are considerable differences of opinion in matters of sexual conduct, and that there are some matters which are of no concern to the U.S. Government. However, serious suitability concerns are raised by sexual activity by an individual which reasonably may be expected to hamper the effective fulfillment by the agencies of any of their duties and responsibilities, or which may impair the individual’s position performance by reason of, for example, the possibility of blackmail, coercion, or improper influence. The standards of conduct enumerated in section 3 FAM 4138 are of particular relevance in determining whether the conduct in question threatens the mission of the employing agency or the individual’s effectiveness.

See?  It does not say, you can’t have it, just don’t be stupid about it and make sure whatever you do would not embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium yourself, the Foreign Service, and the United States (please see 3 FAM 4139.14 for the lowdown). Kind of simple and obviously can be done without locking yourself in the fortress (infamous exceptions here and here). 

On this very subject, Robert Sutton has this to say in the recent post:

“It isn’t easy being a human being; we aren’t machines and it isn’t a simple thing to shut down our love or lust for others. The first step is to accept your humanity, and the second is to surround yourself with people you trust – and will reward rather than punish – to help you stifle your inner creep when he starts to rear his ugly head.”

In Why Powerful Men Let Lust Ruin Their Careers, also cautions — “If you’re a male leader, don’t fool yourself: it could happen to you” and identifies three ways to avoid the very worst kind of bad-boss behavior.  Read it here.

In any case, despite all that caution, if you must have an adulterous appointment, especially with a local employee who also works as a telephone operator, do not/not let her answer the phone in your hotel room!