Code of Conduct breach decisions—behaviour of employees as clients

The Merit Protection Commissioner has reviewed cases where employees were found to have breached section 13(3) of the Code of Conduct for their private behaviour as clients of the agency. The misconduct involved behaving in a rude and aggressive way to client service colleagues, either on the telephone or in person.

APS employees are required by section 13(3) of the Code of Conduct to treat everyone with respect and courtesy when acting 'in connection with employment'. The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that the term 'in connection with employment' does not require an employee to be undertaking their duties. Nor does it require the employee to be in the workplace.

Employees' behaviour as clients can have impact on the workplace—for example, if they behave abusively to client service staff. It can also undermine public confidence in the agency if, for example, employees are perceived to have obtained an advantage in accessing services and benefits over other members of the community because of their employment with the agency. For these reasons, agencies have established policies on employees as clients and have a legitimate interest in the behaviour of employees in their private capacity as clients of the agency.

Client aggression is a workplace health and safety issue for agencies who provide direct services to the public through call centres and office shopfronts. Rude and aggressive behaviour directed at client service staff contributes to the problem of client aggression. For these reasons, the Merit Protection Commissioner has argued that aggressive behaviour by an APS employee as a client towards client service staff is behaviour in connection with employment for the purposes of the Code of Conduct.

Financial sanctions, including reductions in salary, have been imposed on employees who were found to have breached the Code of Conduct for these reasons. In the cases under review, the Merit Protection Commissioner has recommended that the sanctions be confirmed, including on the basis that such misconduct is not trivial. In one case, the Merit Protection Commissioner noted that a more severe sanction may have been appropriate but for mitigating circumstances.

Chapter 3 of the Australian Public Service Commission Handling Misconduct provides general guidance on the term 'in connection with employment.