Review case—unfair denial of salary advancement

An employee sought review of an agency decision not to advance her salary because she did not have a performance agreement in place for the relevant performance cycle.

The employee was one of a group of trainees undergoing competency based training. After successfully completing this training, the trainees were placed in ongoing positions in regional offices on probation. Under the terms of the agency enterprise agreement, it was at this stage employees were meant to establish a performance agreement with their manager.

The employee became aware a year after completing her probation that other employees in her intake of trainees were being paid a higher salary than she was. After making inquiries, she was advised that she was not eligible to salary advance because she did not have a performance agreement in place in the relevant performance cycle.

The reason the employee did not have an agreement was because she had been advised by her manager, after completing her training, that she did not need to establish a performance agreement until the commencement of the next performance cycle. She successfully completed her training and was placed in an ongoing position in November and the next performance cycle commenced in the following July. During the intervening seven months the employee had four different supervisors and none of them, nor the Regional Manager, alerted her to the need to have a performance agreement. The employee received all staff email reminders about the need to establish a performance agreement but did not believe they applied to her because of the advice she had received from her manager.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted evidence of other omissions with respect to this employee. The region in which the employee was working monitored staff compliance with the performance management arrangements via a central spreadsheet but for some reason the employee's name was not on this spreadsheet.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that the employee met other requirements in the enterprise agreement for salary advancement. In particular, the employee's performance was at the 'fully effective' level as evidenced by her periodic probation assessments.

The Merit Protection Commissioner took into account the APS Employment Principles, including that principle that the APS 'makes fair employment decisions'. The Merit Protection Commissioner considered that extenuating circumstances existed in this case that warranted the payment of salary advancement. These extenuating circumstances included the incorrect advice from the employee's manager and her inexperience with the APS employment framework as a new employee.

The Merit Protection Commissioner recommended that the decision to deny salary advancement be set aside. The agency accepted the recommendation.