Sex, lies and frequent coarse language: public servants behaving badly

A federal public servant was fined 4 per cent of his annual wage for an expletive-laden tirade at his boss.

Employers were hiring again in January after a lull in December.
Employers were hiring again in January after a lull in December. Photo: Mayu Kanamori

Another bureaucrat was demoted from his middle-management job after lying about his sexual relationship with a fellow manager, a racist rant at an Indigenous colleague and terrorising the whole office with his bad behaviour.

The two cases were among those featured in the annual Australian Public Service shame files published by its workplace appeals authority the Merit Protection Commissioner.

The "case summaries", part cautionary tales, part management guides, are published regularly by the commissioner with the identities of public servants and their departments withheld to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

The first man had his fine halved on a technicality by the commissioner, while the second, who had responsibility for managing an office full of public servants before his fall from grace, had his appeal against his demotion from EL2 to APS6 turned down.


The office manager faced a lengthy charge sheet, which might well have justified his sacking, and was found guilty of four breaches of the APS Code of Conduct.

"Among other things, the manager was found to have lied to a more senior manager about his relationship with the team leader; treated staff in a rude, dismissive and threatening manner; sworn at staff; made derogatory comments about their appearance; and racist comments to an Indigenous colleague," the commissioner noted in her write-up of the case.

"The manager was also found to have failed to declare a conflict of interest by failing to declare that a relationship had existed between himself and the team leader."

Knocking back his appeal against the punishment, Merit Protection Commissioner Annwyn Godwin found the manager's behaviour was "very serious", had been going on for a long time and "might warrant termination of employment."

But he had problems in his personal life, which were regarded as mitigating circumstances, and it was decided that the demotion from EL2 to APS 6 was the right result, given "the employee could no longer be trusted in a leadership role at the Executive level."

Wouldn't happen at your dept, would it?

Two public servants succeeded in having their punishment for not following orders overturned after the commissioner found the instructions were not clear enough.

One woman who disobeyed instructions to go home after her 8.5 hour shifts ended, escaped punishment because the instruction was ambiguous and another was not told clearly enough to stop making allegations of bullying and harassment.

Another public servant was demoted, even though his boss wanted him sacked, after failing over a long period of time to be a team player.

"The employee had good technical skills but was unable to lead projects, align his work to the strategic directions of the agency and engage collaboratively with stakeholders and colleagues to obtain their buy-in," the commissioner noted.

In a widely-known case, a public servant's appeal against his demotion failed after it was found he was part of a "social media campaign against his agency and sending material critical of his agency to portfolio ministers."

"The employee's campaigning arose from an employment dispute and involved allegations that his employer had bullied, harassed and discriminated against him," the commissioner noted.

But it was not all one way traffic.

 "For several years the employee had demonstrated a pattern of making unsubstantiated allegations about colleagues and the agency," the commissioner wrote..

"This occurred when the employee perceived that his interests were being threatened, including when he was denied employment opportunities, or was admonished by managers."


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