How to handle dodgy public servants: quick assessments and misconduct guidelines

By Stephen Easton

Thursday June 11, 2015

The Australian Public Service Commission has updated its guide to handling misconduct, first published in 2007, to reflect a range of legislative and administrative changes and incorporate feedback from federal agencies.

The short, HTML-based handbook makes good use of info-graphics to make sure managers feel empowered to take the action that is required to deal with problem-causing employees.

Commissioner John Lloyd writes:

“This guide, Handling Misconduct, is designed to support managers to take the most appropriate action at every stage of the misconduct process. This includes when unacceptable behaviour by APS employees is first identified through to terminating their employment where that is justified.

“The guide draws from experience with managing Code of Conduct inquiries in the APS. It suggests good practices for agencies to help them reach decisions that are fair, transparent, and robust. Fair decisions ensure that APS employees and the community at large can have confidence in the fairness of our processes, and that decisions are well grounded and properly made.”

According to the APSC website, the new guide includes:

  • advice on the impact of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 and the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013
  • updated advice on the requirements of the Privacy Act 1988 for the collection, use, and disclosure of information
  • more comprehensive information on managing cases where a criminal act may also be a breach of the Code of Conduct
  • advice on managing suspected misconduct of former employees
  • advice about what each element of the Code of Conduct means
  • clearer advice on record-keeping, especially concerning the transfer of files between agencies
  • a suite of new checklists for decision-makers at key decision points in the process


Defence dumps quick assessments for fact finding

Not every employee-raised complaint needs a full investigation. Some can be vexatious, trivial, or be unsupported by any prima facie evidence. The Department of Defence has its own way of dealing with the high number of unacceptable behaviour complaints and notifiable incidents raised within its ADF and APS workplaces.

Defence uses a tiered system that begins, or rather began, with a 24-hour “Quick Assessment” by a manager more senior than the individuals involved and from a different part of the department. Only if the QA indicated need for further action did it proceed to a full investigation. Every manager, whether uniformed or civilian, was required to be trained in this duty.

However, that long-standing approach was dumped earlier this month, to be replaced with a new process called “Fact Finding in Incident Management” that will be accompanied by a new IT system to keep track of incidents.

The new process is not yet finalised, a Defence spokesperson told The Mandarin, but is on track for its target implementation on July 1:

“Defence is implementing a new recording, reporting and initial assessment process that moves Defence towards a single, standardised IT-based mechanism that would operate across Defence.

“Defence is implementing new simplified fact finding guidance that will apply to matters that do not utilise formal statutory fact finding systems (such as inquiries under the Defence (Inquiry) Regulations 1985.) The simplified fact finding guidance removes unnecessary process and procedure to facilitate timely and effective decision making.

“The current Defence Quick Assessment process will effectively be replaced by the new recording, reporting and initial assessment process.”

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