Code of Conduct sanction decision—unauthorised release of client information

An employee was found to have breached the Code of Conduct for releasing the names of agency clients to Comcare in a statement she made in support of an application for worker's compensation. The employee based her application for worker's compensation on the health effects of client aggression and named two clients who allegedly had been involved in such incidents.

The employee was found by the agency to have breached section 13(2)—care and diligence—of the Code of Conduct and was given a reprimand. The Merit Protection Commissioner upheld the finding of breach, noting that the release of personal information was likely to have been both in breach of the agency's obligations with respect to the Privacy Act 1988 and the provisions relating to protected information in legislation administered by the agency.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that, in the context of the agency's operations, the law surrounding the disclosure of personal information is complex. The employee appeared to be genuinely unsure of her obligations in circumstances where she was providing information to another Commonwealth agency, Comcare. However, the Merit Protection Commissioner was satisfied that the employee had been provided sufficient information by her employer to be aware that she should have checked with her managers before disclosing the information. For this reason, the Merit Protection Commissioner concluded that her actions were in breach of section 13(2) of the Code of Conduct.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted medical evidence and concluded that there were significant mitigating circumstances in the employee's case, in particular, her state of health which was likely to have affected her judgement. The Merit Protection Commissioner considered that there was little likelihood of harm to either the agency or its clients arising from the employee's actions. The employee was remorseful and there was also little likelihood that the behaviour would be repeated. In these circumstances, the Merit Protection Commissioner recommended that the sanction of a reprimand be set aside and that no sanction be imposed on the employee.

The Merit Protection Commissioner also recommended that the record of misconduct on the employee's personnel file be amended to record that there were significant mitigating circumstances in the employee's case. The agency accepted the recommendations.