PSAB clarifies approach to appeals for probationary employees

The Public Service Appeal Board (PSAB) has dismissed an appeal, finding that the decision to terminate probationary employment was not harsh or unreasonable or otherwise effected in a manner that was contrary to the purpose and principles of probationary employment.

The employee was employed by the Director General of the Department of Education (Employer) for a particular project. His employment was subject to an initial six-month probationary period. Around 1 month prior to the end of the probationary period, his manager held a meeting with him to discuss various concerns, which needed to be resolved before the completion of the probationary period. Soon afterwards, the Employer made the decision to "annul" or end the probationary employment, stating that it was because the employee was not appropriate or compatible to continue in the role.

The employee appealed from this decision to the PSAB under s 80I(1)(d) of the Industrial Relations Act 1979 (WA) (IR Act). The appeal was therefore different in nature to an appeal from a substandard performance process under s 79(1) of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 (WA).

The PSAB was required to consider how to approach an appeal set against a background of performance and conduct concerns, but which did not involve termination following a substandard performance process. The PSAB noted that, as an appeal under s80I(1), it involved the review of the Employer's decision de novo, based on the evidence before it. However, mindful of the purpose and implications of probationary employment as set out in East Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service v The Australian Nursing Federation, Industrial Union of Workers Perth [2000] WAIRC 00067; (2000) 80 WAIG 3155, the PSAB was not inclined in this appeal to entirely disregard the Employer's decision, though the appeal was to be determined de novo. The PSAB considered it may legitimately have regard to, and place weight upon, the subjective view of the Employer about the employee's suitability for ongoing employment in determining the appeal. Further, that the employment was probationary, warrants limiting the exercise to rehearing only those aspects of the matter that are strictly necessary to deal with the appellant's grounds of appeal.

In considering the appeal, the PSAB considered four factual issues and found that no adjustment to the decision appealed against was warranted, and therefore the appeal was dismissed.

The decision can be read here.