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The Nation's CEO

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

Ever since the very public and potentially damaging confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas unfolded before a national audience, businesses of all shapes and sizes have sought to develop tougher policies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Companies have looked to guidelines specified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to construct comprehensive approaches for their own employees. In an attempt to conform with these guidelines, companies have formulated written employment policies that universally describe unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature as illegal and against company policy.

As a result, strict rules that prohibit managers from dating their subordinates have been implemented in the workplace. If caught in a relationship with a subordinate, a manager is usually fired. In fact, companies strongly discourage any conduct that may reasonably be expected to lead to the formation of a romantic or sexual relationship.

Relationships of this kind are recognized as contrary to the best interests of the proper functioning of a company. When a relationship between a supervisor or manager and an employee becomes sexual in nature, complications and difficulties inevitably arise and create a multitude of problems for all parties involved.

In the event an unapproved relationship occurs, the executive in question is expected to provide complete and prompt disclosure of all details. Moreover, policies generally impose the responsibility to disclose directly upon the supervisor or manager. These notions are not complex or particularly inventive. They are merely the application of some good common sense.

One of the primary justifications for implementing regulations of this nature in the business environment is the realization that there is an obvious disparity of power between a manager and his or her subordinate. The same principles that are used to thwart abuses in the business world are applicable in the domain of politics.

However, there is one important distinction to note. In the political realm, rules that deal with abuses of power must take on an even greater significance. Why would this be the case? It is because in the business arena, power is collateral to the primary activity at hand. In contrast, power is the sum and substance, the life breath, the very essence of political operations. Therefore, the subordinate party must be afforded more extensive protection.

Of course, the foremost source of power in our country will always rest with the current occupant of the White House. So we must constantly remind ourselves, as well as our public officials, that there is a corollary to the idea that absolute power corrupts. That is, power mandates responsibility for those who possess it.

The tremendous disproportion of power between a president and an unpaid, college intern is about as extreme an example as one could ever imagine. It is this inequity that compelled the National Organization for Women (NOW) to crack its frozen silence on the present scandal. In a statement released by Patricia Ireland, the president of NOW, she describes the charges, if proved true, as a "misuse of power for any public official to have a sexual relationship with an employee or intern."

In May of 1995, NOW called for the resignation of U.S. Senator Bob Packwood. Ireland had demanded that then Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole strip Packwood of his position as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Ms. Ireland uttered two prophetic statements at the time. In an effort to advocate Packwood's speedy removal from his chairmanship, she declared that "Packwood has shown such great disrespect for the law and for women, he should not be allowed to lead the charge in changing laws that impact women." Expressing her dissatisfaction with the lack of disclosure of Senator Packwood's private diary, she said, "The public deserves to know what's going on, and that means holding open hearings soon."

How relevant these words have become as attempts are made by the press to address the countless numbers of unanswered questions surrounding this entire morass. The silence on the part of the White House is indeed deafening.

The President is the Chief Executive Officer of the nation. The electorate makes the decision to place an individual in office due, in no small measure, to his or her ability to make crucial decisions. Judgment and prudence are paramount to the overall fitness and capacity of the chosen person to fulfill the required duties.

Our current President was particularly aware that his actions were being scrutinized due to the high volume of scandals that have plagued his administration. The overriding issue is, therefore, the incredible lack of discretion that these allegations reflect on the part of the nation's Chief Executive Officer.

When an executive has sexual activity with a subordinate, his or her ability to run the company must be seriously questioned. If the current allegations are proven to be true, we should deal with our nation's CEO at least to the same degree we would an executive of a company. In applying this reasoning to the most prestigious and important job

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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