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Public servants told to keep calm and call the cops

Public servants should seek police protection when confronted by the extreme behaviour becoming more commonplace from members of the public, the federal workplace authority has advised.  

Access EAP data shows a 15 per cent increase in people taking stress leave.
Access EAP data shows a 15 per cent increase in people taking stress leave. 

A revised code-of-conduct for the the federal government's 152,000 public servants instructs frontline workers not to be shy about calling the police when dealing with a rising tide of "difficult, abusive or aggressive customers or clients".

The new code also advises bureaucrats not to make the mistake of hiding their identity behind anonymous social media profiles or aliases when posting material online.

Their true identities will be inevitably be revealed,as has happened in several high profile cases in recent years, the code of conduct states, and they will have to face the consequences of their online activities.

The Australian Public Service Code of Conduct is the central document that governs discipline and general behaviour in the service.

Breaches can result in punishments ranging from reprimands through to fines or demotions all the way to sackings for more serious offences.

In the latest revised version of the code, the Public Service Commission notes that rudeness and aggression from the public towards public servants needed to be addressed.

"Anecdotal evidence from a wide range of organisations and jurisdictions indicates that this problem is widespread," the code notes.

"What's more, the number of people who present as difficult seems to be on the increase and the nature of the difficulties that agencies have to deal with seems to be getting more complex."

Keeping calm was the most important thing, the code advised, but police protection remained an option.

"In all circumstances if confronted with a difficult or abusive person, employees are advised to remain calm, positive and avoid taking unnecessary risks," the code reads.

"If in doubt, they should seek the support of a supervisor or colleague.

"An employee should withdraw if they feel intimidated or threatened.

"The police should be contacted in extreme cases."

The revised code also advises public servants of the dangers of social media, with the online activities of public servants emerging as a hot-button issue in government workplaces in recent years.

There have been high-profile cases of public servants tweeting or blogging in their spare time before being outed and disciplined over political or other comments they made online.

The new code warns that there is nowhere to hide, not even behind locked-down privacy settings, in cyberspace.

"A site's security settings are not a guarantee of privacy," the code warns 

"Material posted in a relatively secure setting can still be copied and reproduced elsewhere.

"Comments posted on one site can also be used on others under the terms and conditions of many social media sites."

It is best not to bother with an fake online identity, the code concludes, warning public servants they will inevitably be unmasked.

"As a rule of thumb, anyone who posts material online should make an assumption that at some point their identity and the nature of their employment will be revealed,"  the code says.

"When posting material, employees should be confident that, should their identity become known, the material does not raise questions about their ability to meet the behavioural standards set out in the APS Values, Employment Principles and the Code."

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