10. Quality assurance

Last updated: 09 Jun 2015

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10.1 Quality assurance

10.1.1 The following quality assurance mechanisms are good practice and assist in delivering quality outcomes and good governance for misconduct action.

Good practice policy and procedural guidance

10.1.2 Agencies may wish to consider the following approaches to developing policy and procedural guidance on the misconduct framework:

  • Having process advice available to all employees about the management and reporting of suspected misconduct, including internal agency arrangements for reporting misconduct and public interest disclosures.
  • Providing managers with better practice guidance on deciding how to respond to unacceptable behaviour, including whether or not to refer it for investigation as suspected misconduct, to ensure fairness and consistency in the treatment of suspected misconduct.
  • Regularly review agency guidance material on reporting and managing suspected misconduct to ensure it is up to date, including contact details of agency practitioners and external sources of advice, for example the Australian Public Service Commission's Ethics Advisory Service.47
  • Include a requirement in the agency's performance management system, tailored to the different responsibilities at different classification levels, to demonstrate knowledge of, and commitment to, the Australian Public Service (APS) Values, APS Employment Principles and the APS Code of Conduct (the Code).

Practices to support quality decision-making

10.1.3 Agencies may wish to consider the following approaches for ensuring the quality of decisions about misconduct.

  • Processes for ensuring that the decision-maker who determines whether a breach has occurred has the necessary skills, experience and capability and providing that decision-maker with support and resources to do their job effectively.
  • Having decision support tools for decision-makers, including checklists to ensure that procedural steps have been completed appropriately and good records kept.
  • A quality assurance process for Code investigations and decisions, independent of the decision-maker, to check for compliance with procedures, consistency of decisions, timeliness and quality of outcomes.
  • Considering whether to have separate breach and sanction decision-makers.
  • Limiting the number of people in the agency who hold a delegation to decide sanction.
  • Keeping central records of sanctions on a database, without including names, to guide decision-makers.

Practices to support the effective management and oversight of the misconduct action

10.1.4 Agencies may wish to consider the following approaches for the effectiveness of misconduct conduct action and executive oversight of this activity:

  • Establish a database of cases, which could be a case management system, to assist consistency in handling cases and sanctions. A database can support quality assurance e.g. the timeliness of cases, and provide data to senior management on the number and types of misconduct cases, the numbers of reviews sought and the outcomes of any such reviews.
  • Periodically conduct a file audit of a sample of misconduct files to evaluate if correct procedures and recordkeeping requirements are being followed
  • Assess the outcomes of reviews conducted by the Merit Protection Commissioner to identify concerns about the quality of decision-making that may point to systemic issues
  • Use agency-specific data from the annual APS Employee Census, or include questions, in a pulse or short, regular surveys, to establish the level of employee knowledge about misconduct.48
    • For example, questions could be asked about how to report misconduct, including as a disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act), confidence in being protected from victimisation and discrimination if misconduct is reported, whether or not serious misconduct, including corruption has been observed in the last 12 months, and views on whether colleagues and managers behave in accordance with the Code.
  • Regular reports to the agency executive on trends, or any systemic issues arising from misconduct and other integrity casework.

Educating employees

10.1.5 It is good practice for agencies to conduct periodic training on the relevance of the APS Values and the Code to employees' day-to-day work, including the use of scenarios relevant to the work of the agency. This training could also include information on the options for reporting misconduct within the agency

10.1.6 Case studies are useful for informing and educating employees about appropriate standards or behaviour, risks in the agency's operational environment and the consequences of misconduct, including sanctions. Such case studies can be published and have a significant educative effect.

10.1.7 Agencies should take reasonable steps to de-identify material to ensure that a person's identity cannot be 'reasonably ascertained' from the case study.49 Withholding a person's name may not be sufficient. For example, in the right circumstances information about an employee's work area or the type of complaint may be sufficient to identify that person.

10.1.8 The risk that the use and disclosure of personal information in this way would be contrary to the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) in the Privacy Act 1988 is reduced if the affected employee has been made aware of this possibility at the time the information is collected. The employee can be made aware either through generally available information to all staff or through collection notices provided to the employee at the time of the investigation.

10.1.9 The Office of the Information Commissioner has guidelines on the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), including APP 6.2(a) the use of personal information for a secondary purpose related to the primary purpose of collection.

10.1.10 Alternatively, agencies can amalgamate cases or use 'dummy' facts for the purpose of constructing case studies for training or educative purposes. Case summaries prepared by the Merit Protection Commissioner may be a useful resource—see www.apsc.gov.au/aps-employment-policy-and-advice/merit/case-summaries. Additionally, the Fair Work Commission publishes reviews of termination of employment decisions—see www.fwc.gov.au.

10.2 Providing information to a complainant about the outcome of a Code of Conduct investigation

10.2.1 The Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) has issued guidance on providing information about the outcome of complaints of misconduct at www.apsc.gov.au/publications-and-media/circulars-and-advices/2008/circular-20083. This is advice is currently being reviewed. The revised information will be added to this guide as an appendix and agencies are advised to contact the Commission's Ethics Advisory Service on 02 6202 3747 or ethics@apsc.gov.au if they are in doubt about the currency of guidance on this topic.

10.3 Key points for agency guidance material

10.3.1 Agency guidance material could include information drawn from this section on the following matters:

  • good practice quality assurance mechanisms, including
  • practices to support quality decision-making
  • practices to support the effective management and oversight of the misconduct action
  • periodic education of employees on the relevance of the Code to employees' day- to-day work and on the options for reporting misconduct within the agency
  • the information provided to a complainant about the outcome of a Code investigation.

10.3.2 Agencies may also wish to consider developing templates, checklists and sample letters in accordance with agency misconduct procedures and other related policies. These will assist investigators and decision-makers to address more quickly the administrative and procedural fairness issues and provide a consistent approach across the agency.50


47 www.apsc.gov.au/ethics

48 An agency seeking advice can contact the Director, Human Capital Research and Analysis or surveys@apsc.gov.au.

49 Personal information can include any information or opinion from which a person's identity is apparent or can be 'reasonably ascertained'. See also Part I, Section 2.3 Managing misconduct action consistent with the privacy requirements of this guide.

50 Agencies may also wish to refer to the Administrative Review Councils Best Practice Guides in relation to administrative decision-making at www.arc.ag.gov.au/Publications/Reports/Pages/OtherDocuments.aspx