Review of action case—dispute about need for a performance improvement plan

An employee working in a processing area sought review of an agency decision to place them on a plan to improve performance following a rating of requiring support at the end of a performance cycle. The employee considered they had not been trained correctly and on this basis should not be required to undertake the performance improvement process. In particular, the employee reported being initially trained by one staff member, but then being swapped between several people for training. The applicant submitted that they needed an on-site trainer, and said that their manager did not listen and had provided a trainer in a different location.

The Merit Protection Commissioner established that, after receiving training from one person for the first six months, the applicant had then received training from a number of people. This was a result of staff workloads and leave commitments, which had meant that it was not possible to allocate one person continually to provide the level of support and training required. However, in response to the applicant's complaint that it was confusing to have different staff providing advice, the agency had appointed an experienced staff member to provide training in a consistent manner. Although the trainer was not located in the same office as the applicant, it was evident that the trainer had made themselves available by telephone, email and, where possible, in person, to provide the level of support required. A back-up trainer was also nominated to provide urgently required assistance.

The Merit Protection Commissioner was satisfied that the performance management process undertaken complied with the requirements of the agency's enterprise agreement. The agency had established performance measures that were clearly expressed, measurable and appropriate to the employee's role, and the employee was aware of these. A key aspect of the performance management process is discussion and feedback between the employee and the relevant manager. The 'no surprises' principle of performance management requires that employees be aware of their performance progress, and that managers identify and address performance concerns at the earliest opportunity. There was clear evidence that employee had been given notice in the mid-cycle discussion that the manager had identified issues with the employee's performance and mentioned that a performance improvement process might be required in the future. The available evidence indicated that the manager and the trainer both provided the employee with regular and meaningful feedback on the employee's performance throughout the remainder of the performance cycle.

The Merit Protection Commissioner did not agree that the manager had failed to listen to the employee in relation to their training needs. In direct response to the employee's complaint about different staff providing training, and taking into account the resources available within the office, the manager had appointed a suitably experienced staff member to provide primary training and quality assessment in a consistent manner. This was regarded as an appropriate level of training and support that was fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The Merit Protection Commissioner concluded that the decision to place the employee on a performance improvement plan was appropriate. In reaching this conclusion, the Merit Protection Commissioner considered the assessment of the employee's performance, which provided clear evidence that the employee was not meeting performance expectations. The Merit Protection Commissioner also considered that the performance management process undertaken complied with the requirements of the enterprise agreement and included an appropriate level of training and support.