HR reflections on Tony Abbott’s undignified departure

by Chloe Taylor15 Sep 2015
In a surprise move on Monday night, Malcolm Turnbull defeated Tony Abbott in a leadership challenge, and was elected Australia’s 29th prime minister.

Declaring Abbott a failed leader, Turnbull resigned from his post as communications minister and insisted that by not ousting the now former-PM, a Labor win at the next election was inevitable.

Speaking at his first media conference since Monday’s ballot, Turnbull said he was “very humbled by the great honour and responsibility” he had been given, and called for a new era of consultative leadership.

“The burden of leadership is a very heavy one. Tony has discharged that as leader of the party and, of course, as Prime Minister over many years now and the achievements of the government that he has led have been formidable.”

Abbott reportedly remains defiant, claiming that he intends to maintain the prime ministership.

While political affairs are a world away from the day-to-day concerns of HR departments, the termination of Abbott’s prime ministership acts as a reminder that well-publicised dismissals involving executive level employees puts pressure on everyone involved.  

For HR professionals, poor handling of high profile exits from an organisation has the potential to cause serious issues for the company. In a situation where a dismissal threatens the privacy – and to some extent, dignity – of the employee, it is important that HR follows correct procedure.

When a high profile employee’s performance reaches the point of no return, an undignified and public exit often becomes inevitable – and if poorly handled, can end badly for either party.

Before Abbott’s ousting, the world saw a number of high-profile terminations this year, occurring within an array of industries.

Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays

Jenkins, who chaired the international bank for three years, was sacked in July for failing to cut the bureaucracy burdening operations at Barclays.

He was also reported to have been unsuccessful in cutting costs quickly enough, and was said to have struggled to improve the investment bank’s performance.

In spite of this, Jenkins departed with around £28 million (AU$60 million) in cash and shares, including a £2.4 million “golden goodbye”.

Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines

US-based United Airlines sacked its CEO Jeff Smisek, along with two other high-ranking company employees, in recent weeks following the emergence of a scandal involving the Port Authority. The employees in question were reportedly implicated in a deal with a high ranking member of the Port Authority.

Donald Trump and NBC

Presidential candidate Trump was publicly ousted from a long-standing relationship with US broadcaster NBC in recent months. The network reportedly succumbed to public pressure to end the association after Trump made racist comments live on air.

Trump subsequently told reporters that he would not back down on his views about immigration, telling CNN correspondent Athena Jones that he was considering legal action against NBC.

Todd Carney and the Cronulla Sharks

Earlier this year, rugby league player Todd Carney was involved in an unfair dismissal claim after his employer sacked him for misconduct ‘proved’ by video evidence.

At the time, HC spoke to Helen Carter, director at PCC Lawyers about the highly publicised case.

“Without procedural fairness, you can’t actually be sure whether or not the right substantive decision has actually been made,” she explained. “But the employers’ obligation is not simply to hear the employees side of the story before terminating the employment, the obligation is actually to defer their decision on whether or not to terminate until after the employee has had an opportunity to respond.”

Carter also clarified the biggest lesson employers should take from Carney’s case.

“The main point for employers is that it doesn’t matter how serious they consider the issue, this does not excuse a failure to follow proper procedural fairness,” Carter told HC. “In my career I have seen a lot of times when employers have fallen into error because they believe that a video or photo gives them such “strong evidence” of wrongdoing that they do not need to follow proper process in investigating a matter.”

Tony Abbott will reportedly leave his role with an annual pension of $307,542 per year.

He also reportedly has the option to take half as a lump sum of $1.53 million and the rest as an annual pension of $153,771. 

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