Operating environment a relevant consideration
It is desirable that there is a level of consistency in the sanctions imposed for similar behaviour across APS agencies. However, because of their operating environment, some agencies view particular behaviours more seriously than might generally be the case.
Integrity agencies with staff employed under the Public Service Act demand the highest standards of integrity and professionalism from their staff because of the nature of their work, the sensitive information they hold and the risk of staff being compromised. These standards are reinforced through processes such as employment suitability screening and integrity testing.
Two employees from two different integrity agencies were reduced in classification as a result of a finding of a breach of the Code of Conduct. Both employees argued on review that the sanction they received were unfair, including because the sanction was disproportionate to the objective seriousness of the behaviour.
One employee identified themselves on social media as an employee of the agency (in breach of the agency’s social media policy), engaging in behaviour that suggested they were doing something their employer would not approve of. A second employee failed to record their attendance accurately over a six month period accruing a debt to the Commonwealth.
The Merit Protection Commissioner had regard to the sanction decision makers’ views of the trustworthiness of both employees. In one case, the employee was a supervisor and their behaviour demonstrated a lack of professional judgement. In the second case, the employee did not demonstrate an intrinsic motivation to do the right thing. The Merit Protection Commissioner also considered the leadership and accountability standards for the employees’ classification levels and outlined in the APS Work Level Standards.
The Merit Protection Commissioner considered the need for general deterrence – that in these cases the sanctions demonstrated to employees more generally in the agency that these behaviours were not tolerated. The Merit Protection Commissioner recommended the sanctions be confirmed.