We're watching | All eyes are on the ethics of business leaders, and for good reason

All eyes are on the ethics of business leaders, and for good reason

In 2019, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired from his role after news emerged that the executive had been undertaking a secret relationship with an employee.

For obvious reasons, this violated the company’s policy (a non-fraternisation policy that bans dating direct or indirect subordinates) despite the relationship being consensual.

It came as a shock to precisely no one that his actions were deemed to be unethical, and what followed was a lengthy legal battle between Easterbrook and the company over the right to his remuneration, and the significance of his actions.

It was an interesting case, but by no means a one-off. In fact just this week, a very similar case made headlines, this time within NBCUniversal, where Chief Jeff Shell was forced to exit following the discovery of an inappropriate relationship with a woman who worked for the company.

Some may argue that these cases aren’t that big of a deal. They both involve two consenting adults in a mutual relationship. How bad can this actually be? The answer, of course, is that how consenting can a relationship be when one of the parties is in a notable position of power.

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The Rise of Globally Distributed Teams

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Both Shell and Easterbrook are influential individuals, with the right to make fundamental decisions about the running of their respective businesses.

This throws up many questions. Were their partners, or other individuals in similar positions offered unfair advantages due to their personal relationships? In an age where widespread redundancies are a normal part of working life, are some workers saved purely because they share a deeply intimate relationship with the CEO?

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