The Australian Public Service Commission has given agency heads more leeway to not publicly name staff who are fired for breaching a code of conduct, while employers now must notify the commissioner before settling sexual harassment matters.
APS commissioner Peter Woolcott this week updated directions to agencies and departments, also mandating that all new public servants must undergo integrity training.
The directions, which haven’t been updated since 2016, previously allowed agency heads to have some discretion in not naming a person in the Public Service Gazette when their employment was terminated.
But the new directions now allow an agency head who believes “including the name is not necessary to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the APS” to withhold publishing the former employee’s name if they have been fired for breaching code of conduct.
Asked whether this could hinder public accountability, an APSC spokesperson told The Mandarin: “Agency heads are expected to use this provision only where the circumstances may warrant it – for example, where a person’s safety may be compromised by the publication of their name”.
“Where a person’s name has been withheld, agency heads are now required to notify the APS commissioner of the person’s name,” the spokesperson said.
Agencies are also now required to consult the commissioner before entering into a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement with an APS employee relating to sexual harassment as well as inform the commissioner of any wider settlements each financial year.
Meanwhile, the commission has now mandated all ongoing public servants do integrity training in the first six months of their employment, while new non-ongoing staff must undertake it as soon as possible.
The commission launched an e-learning module in March last year but some APS agencies already provide similar integrity training and the APSC has started a process of endorsing agency-specific integrity training.
“The directions outline that this training is to be completed following initial engagement with the APS, not on an annual basis,” the APSC spokesperson said.
“If the employee has been previously engaged as an APS employee and completed a program of training about integrity as part of that engagement, the requirement to undergo integrity training does not apply.”
The changes follow reports to government, including Stephen Sedgwick’s report into consultations regarding institutional integrity in the APS and the 2020 Respect@Work report.
The APSC spokesperson said employees were widely consulted on the changes.
“In addition, consultation occurred with particular agencies, where relevant,” they said.
This included working with the National Indigenous Australians Agency on updating definitions of an Aboriginal person and Torres Strait Islander – which were relying on legislation from 1975 – and the integrity agencies on the use of non-disclosure agreements.