The People & Culture Podcast: code of conduct, bullying and performance management with Gabrielle Sullivan

By The Mandarin

May 30, 2018

Why is personnel management in the public sector so fraught with horror stories? The Mandarin‘s Associate Publisher for People & Capability, James Judge, talks with an employment lawyer to find out what’s true, myth, or simply a matter of perspective.


Gabrielle Sullivan is director of employment and industrial law at Bradley Allen Love lawyers. Acting for both employers and employees, she handles matters relating to hiring and firing and everything else in between. She deals with issues across the ACT, NSW and federal governments as well as local councils and the private sector.

Gabrielle Sullivan

I ask Gabrielle about performance management in the public sector and the confusion that can occur when performance issues are pursued as misconduct matters. In explaining the difference, she makes the great analogy of the difference between ‘can’t cook’ and ‘won’t cook.’

We discuss how performance management can be slow to be implemented in the public sector due to factors like the difficulty of the process, managers’ fears that they won’t be acknowledged and people’s unwillingness to deal with conflict. Agencies can, however, swiftly invoke misconduct proceedings when they want to exit an employee.

“I do see some spectacularly unfair decisions being made… there is a profound reluctance once they’ve committed to a course, to change that course even when it’s patently clear that that should happen.”

We also discuss why bullying and harassment receives so much attention in the public sector but, paradoxically, remains unaddressed in some workplaces. We explore what cultural and other factors contribute to specific bullying behaviours in workplaces and why particular workplaces (such as health) seem over-represented.

Dealing with unscheduled absences is also covered in our conversation and I ask Gabrielle about her views on enterprise bargaining in the APS, including a recent policy statement from the Public Service Commissioner and the response from the ACTU.

We also discuss the operation of part of the Fair Work Act (s.424) enabling suspension of proposed industrial action by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and a recent decision made by that body.

Links and Resources

  • The Bradley Allen Love website.
  • The 2018 APS Workplace Bargaining Policy referred to our conversation can be found on the Australian Public Service Commission website, and the ACTU’s response to the cabinet approved policy can be found in this press release of 9 February.
  • Here is a story from the Sydney Morning Herald covering the decision by the FWC in January to suspend proposed industrial action by NSW rail workers and the wording of s424 of the Fair Work Act can be accessed here.

Connect and share

If you enjoyed the discussion please like and share with those you think might be interested. Drop me an email at if you have any suggestions for further shows. I am on twitter @JamesAJudge. Feel free to connect via Linkedin.

Thanks for listening.

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