Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission

PSAB appeal against demotion and reduction in work classification dismissed

The Public Service Appeal Board (Board) has dismissed an appeal against the decision of the respondent to impose a penalty of a permanent reduction in classification following admissions by the appellant of misconduct over a six-year period.

The appellant occupied a Level 8 position with the respondent and formed part of the senior management team for several years.

In March 2019, the respondent made four allegations of suspected breaches of discipline under s 80 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 (WA) (PSM Act). The allegations were in connection to the misuse of the respondent’s computer system, unauthorised release of official information and inappropriate behaviour.

The appellant admitted to the misconduct and the respondent imposed a penalty of permanent reduction in work classification from Level 8.3 to Level 5.4.

The appellant appealed on the basis that the penalty was harsh and unfair given the mitigating circumstances that he advanced in response to the allegations, including his unblemished record and personal issues. He sought that the penalty be reduced to a reprimand and a reduction in classification to Level 8.1.

The respondent argued that the penalty was appropriate and a higher-level position was not suitable for the appellant given his breach of trust and the respondent’s lack of confidence in the appellant as a result of his misconduct.  

The Board found, in considering the appellant’s engagement in sustained misconduct, profound abuse of the respondent’s email system, numerous breaches of the respondent’s code of conduct and his senior position, that the respondent’s decision to permanently reduce the appellant’s work classification was entirely appropriate. The Board found that the personal matters referred to by the appellant in his mitigation submissions could not be relied upon in mitigation of sustained misconduct over many years.

 

Respondent’s submission as to scope of Appeal Board’s powers under s 80I(1) of Act

The Board also dealt with a submission made by the respondent that the Board’s power to “adjust” the respondent’s decision under s 80I of the Industrial Relations Act 1979 (WA) (Act) only extended to reversing or quashing the decision. The respondent submitted that it was not open to the Board to “change” the decision in such a way as to replace it with a different decision as sought by the appellant, to impose a reprimand and a Level 8.1 classification instead.

The Board considered the powers of the Board under s 80I of the Act to “adjust” a decision of an employer to dismiss a manager for misconduct and found that its meaning was to be considered in the context of an appeal under s 80I(b) of the Act.

The Board then referred to s 80A of the PSM Act, and noted that one category of disciplinary action is a “reduction in the level of classification of the employee” and that this was the relevant ‘decision’ in this case. Thus, the Board found the meaning of “adjust” in this case is to be considered in the context of the relevant disciplinary decision to reduce the appellant’s level of classification.

The Board found that its power to “adjust” the respondent’s reduction in classification decision involved the power to “reform” it in some way. This is plainly not limited to reversing it.

The Board determined that such decisions involve “reforming” or changing a reduction in classification decision, which is the relevant decision to be adjusted under s 80I(b) of the Act. This does not involve the making of a new decision by the Board.  

The decision can be read here. 

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