Creepiness is subjective. One woman's laid-back, approachable boss is another's sleazy lech.

One man's caring, demonstrative boss is another's predatory old cougar who should keep her opinions to herself.

Of course, some things are clear cut. Stroking body parts (yours or other people's); sexting; lewd conversations - they are a no-go in the workplace. But sometimes, it's not so easy to evaluate what is and isn't appropriate.

The resignation last week of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) boss, Roger Sutton, came after a seven-week inquiry into sexual harassment allegations against him. He fronted a press conference attended by senior government officials including the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Andrew Kibblewhite, and State Services Commissioner, Iain Rennie.


Sutton delivered a beautiful mea culpa - yes, he said, he'd called women sweetheart and honey. Yes, he liked to hug, but that was just him.

He accepted his behaviour was sexist, and was seeing a psychologist to deal with that. He had also decided to resign, despite Rennie saying he didn't believe Sutton's behaviour warranted dismissal. And yet he also said Sutton was guilty of serious misconduct, a charge that can warrant instant dismissal.

Sutton said he was exhausted and wanted to spend more time with his family. He wanted to be a better father and husband. And so with tears and one final ambush hug on a startled Kibblewhite, Sutton left the press conference arm in arm with his wife.

It was quite the performance.

I have no doubt it was genuine. I'm sure Sutton was very sorry that he'd hurt anyone's feelings. This is a guy who likes to be liked. I'm sure he did want to spend time with his family and I'm also certain he was exhausted. Most people in Canterbury dealing with the aftermath of the earthquakes are.

But what on earth was Rennie thinking? The parties involved in the investigation - the complainant, the accused, the witnesses - were bound by confidentiality agreements. And yet Rennie stayed schtum while Sutton presented his version of events.

Watch: Little: Sutton 'Should not get golden handshake'

New Labour leader Andrew Little says departing CERA boss Roger Sutton should not be given a golden handshake.“What I’m concerned about … is that the SSC conducts an investigation, requires … victims to maintain confidentiality, and allows a chief executive to walk away from their job. “It doesn’t look like holding him to account in a way that I would expect the public service to do.”

Most New Zealanders were left scratching their heads. A seven-week government inquiry into calling someone "sweetie"? Resigning over a hug? What on earth was New Zealand coming to?


But resigning over sweetheart/honey/hug does seem like overkill - if, in fact, that's all there was to it.

We don't know, because the complainant isn't talking, and having let Sutton sing like a canary at a press conference that was more like a valedictory, Rennie's lips are sealed.

There's no doubt we've come a long way in terms of workplace relations since I started in the media 30-odd years ago. When I was working in Palmerston North a (female) colleague of mine filed a story that displeased the Wellington-based chief reporter. There was a means of communicating among radio stations like a nationwide intercom. His voice crackled out around the country as he roundly abused her for her story, her looks and for being at work when she had her period because he could only assume her being on the rag was the reason for the abortion of a story.

Fresh out of a Catholic boarding school and only three weeks into the job, I was terrified. I soon learned you have to stand up to bullies and the guys looking for a grope by either calling them on their bad behaviour or shocking them back. But not everybody's able to do that and they shouldn't be made to feel guilty if they're intimidated or insulted by their colleagues or their boss.

There's a double standard here. Women can pin images of the All Blacks in their undies on their cubicle walls, while men would be frowned upon for pinning a poster of the Black Sticks in their knickers. Women's hugs and touches and unsolicited advice are just as likely to be unwelcome as some men's. It's just men don't tend to go through official channels to complain.

So what do we know after a week of fevered conjecture about the real reason for Sutton's departure?

Bugger all, other than this was extremely poorly handled by Rennie. There is speculation over Sutton, the complainant has been slagged on social media and nobody's any the wiser as to what constitutes serious misconduct in the workplace.

One HR chap said the easiest way to avoid trouble was to call people by their names and keep your hands off them. Maybe that should be the first lesson the State Services Commission teaches its CEOs.

Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday to Thursday, 8pm-midnight.