National

Public servant's boss asked her to send him topless photos

<i>Illustration: Cathy Wilcox</i>
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox 

Sexual interaction between consenting adults in public service workplaces will be punished if they fail to observe the APS code of conduct while they are doing it, the bureaucracy's workplace umpire has warned.

The Merit Protection Commissioner has upheld the demotion of an Australian Public Service team leader who asked a subordinate to send him topless photographs of herself.

Despite the interaction taking place between "consenting adults", the junior worker finding it funny and "willingly" complying with the requests for topless photographs, the boss was demoted after he lied to his manager about the matter.

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After an appeal by the culprit against his punishment by the unnamed department, Merit Protection Commissioner Annwyn Godwin backed the demotion decision, finding the manager had breached the Code of Conduct requirement to act with "courtesy and respect".

"The employee apologised for lying to his manager, arguing that it was done before he was aware that he was under investigation and that he lied to protect the reputation of his junior colleague," the commissioner wrote in her annual report.

"Even though the junior team member was not offended by the requests, the Merit Protection Commissioner was of the opinion that a reasonable observer would conclude that such behaviour was lacking in respect and courtesy.

"This is because the behaviour failed to demonstrate professional esteem and regard for the junior colleague and was behaviour that in many contexts, including a professional workplace, would be considered impolite."

The failed appeal against the demotion was one of six case reviews undertaken in the 2013-14 financial year chosen for publication by Ms Godwin in her annual report.

The commissioner backed departmental decisions in each of the published reviews, reflecting a broad trend that most appeals by public servants against disciplinary decisions are doomed to failure.

"In 2013-14, 80 per cent of the finalised reviews resulted in a recommendation to the agency head to uphold the original agency decision, compared to 70 per cent in 2012-13," Ms Godwin wrote.

There was also a case of an executive level 2 employee who appealed his demotion to EL1 for sending an email using "rugged language" to a subordinate.

"It was the opinion of the Merit Protection Commissioner that a reasonable person would conclude that the email to the colleague would humiliate and offend and also cause unnecessary hurt and distress," the commissioner wrote.

"That the employee would send such an email, having previously been warned about sending inappropriate emails, demonstrated that they were dismissive of, or uncaring about, any offence the email may have caused and that the behaviour was characteristic."

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