Code of Conduct Investigations

Hundreds of Australian Public Service employees are subject to Code of Conduct investigations under the Public Service Act each year.

What is the Code of Conduct?

Australian Public Services (APS) employees are required to comply with the Code of Conduct contained in s13 of the Public Service Act 1999 (Cth). This Code of Conduct requires APS employees to:

  • behave honestly and with integrity in connection with APS employment;
  • act with care and diligence in connection with APS employment;
  • treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment;
  • comply with all applicable Australian laws;
  • comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by someone in the employee's Agency who has authority to give the direction;
  • maintain appropriate confidentiality about dealings that the employee has with any Minister or Minister's member of staff;
  • take reasonable steps to avoid any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with the employee's APS employment; and disclose details of any material personal interest of the employee in connection with the employee's APS employment;
  • use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner and for a proper purpose;
  • not provide false or misleading information in response to a request for information that is made for official purposes in connection with the employee's APS employment;
  • not improperly use inside information or the employee's duties, status, power or authority:
  • behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and APS Employment Principles; and the integrity and good reputation of the employee's Agency and the APS;
  • while overseas, at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia; and,
  • comply with any other conduct requirement that is prescribed by the regulations.

I have been accused of breaching the Code of Conduct – what happens now?

Breaches of the Code of Conduct can lead to an investigation. Section 15(3) of the Public Service Act requires an agency head to establish written procedures for determining whether an APS employee has breached the Code of Conduct, and the sanctions that will be imposed on employees found to have breached the Code of Conduct.

While the process to be followed varies across the various government agencies, generally the investigation will consist of the following:

  1. Receipt of complaint of suspected breach of Code of Conduct;
  2. Notice of the complaint to the employee concerned (the respondent);
  3. Investigation and information gathering including:
  4.       a.  interviews with the complainant, witnesses and respondent; and/or
  5.       b.  a request for a written response from the respondent;
  6. Determination Report on whether a breach of Code of Conduct has been found to have occurred;
  7. If the respondent is found to have breached the Code of Conduct they should then be provided with the opportunity to provide further written submissions as to the appropriate sanction; and,
  8. Determination Report on sanction.

Why do I need a lawyer in a code of conduct investigation?

Meyer Vandenberg has a wealth of experience in Code of Conduct and workplace investigations.  We can:

  • Explain the Code of Conduct, and your obligations under it;
  • Draft written submissions in relation to alleged breaches, and appropriate sanctions;
  • Attend meetings as a support person;
  • Advise whether the investigation is being conducted in a reasonable manner and any resulting causes of action;
  • Advise on any causes of action arising from a sanction, including termination, suspension, and demotion; and
  • Carry out conduct Code of Conduct Investigations for Federal Government employees.

We work regularly with all levels of government, inlcuding being seconded to work within the Federal Government. This experience provides a unique insight into the issues, sanctions and processes commonly seen in public service Code of Conduct investigations.

What can I do if I have been terminated as a result of a code of conduct investigation?

Code of Conduct investigations can bring up a number of legal issues including compliance with employment contracts and policies, bias, whistle-blower protections, procedural fairness, discrimination, breaches of general protections, and unfair dismissals. It is important to obtain legal advice as to what your rights might be if you have been found to have breached the Code of Conduct. Furthermore, it is important to act quickly as some legal remedies have short limitation periods.

For more information on Code of Conduct Investigations contact William Ward.

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