ACT Launches Reportable Conduct Scheme

Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, June 07, 2017

If there's one thing that's been made clear from the recent Royal Commission, it's that the protection of children and the reporting procedures around child abuse need to be improved. 

In August 2016, largely in response to the commission, the ACT Government passed legislation designed to cast a 'wider net' when it comes to the scrutiny of child abuse and the protection of children within certain organisations.

The ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme will take effect from July 1 2017. The scheme is designed to ensure that there are processes in place for allegations of employee abuse of children, and that these allegations are independently reviewed. 

In essence, it provides a mechanism for employers to report employee misconduct in relation to children, with the ACT Ombudsman acting in the role of independent oversight body.   

WHICH EMPLOYERS DOES THIS APPLY TO?

Certain types of employers that work with children will be covered under the scheme, including health service providers, foster care and out-of-home services, residential care providers, schools and educational services. 

In general, religious organisations (other than schools), instructional services (such as teachers of sports and music), scouts/guides and universities will not be included under the scheme. 

The term 'employee' in this instance refers not only to workers but also to contractors and volunteers within the relevant organisation, whether or not they work directly with children. This means conduct may be reported even if it is of a personal and non-professional nature.  

WHAT ABOUT OTHER REPORTING PROCESSES? 

It's important to be aware that the scheme will not override other reporting obligations - such as that of suspected crime to the police, or mandatory reporting of serious abuse or neglect of children to the Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS). However, it does cover a wider range of behaviours in relation to children, and also provides a mechanism for employers to report conduct not covered under other mandatory reporting programs. 

WHAT EMPLOYERS NEED TO DO

ACT employers covered by the scheme will need to notify the Ombudsman within 30 days of suspected or actual misconduct by an employee in relation to children. These acts of misconduct include neglect, mistreatment, psychological harm, sexual misconduct or inappropriate discipline. 

Employers will also need to:  

  • Perform investigations into alleged reportable conduct and provide a written report to the Ombudsman. 
  • Report to other bodies as required - including the police, the human rights commission, CYPS and others. 
  • Review and amend their organisational policies and procedures where necessary.
  • Inform and educate employees regarding any new or amended policies and responsibilities. 

THE OMBUDSMAN'S ROLE

The scheme is designed to go beyond just reporting misconduct. For instance, the Ombudsman's role in regard to this is also to monitor and analyse trends, share information with other authorities as required, provide guidance to organisations regarding child protection, and monitor the practices of employers in relation to child safety and prevention of abuse.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

WISE Workplace provides independent investigation services for organisations into reportable conduct, and training on how to respond and investigate allegations. 

Public sector wages changes a recipe for unrest

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Recent changes to NSW public sector wages will lead to greater employee unrest and dissatisfaction.

The contentious changes, passed recently by both Houses of Parliament, sparked an angry protest by nearly 12,000 workers in Sydney’s Macquarie Street, earlier this week.

Unfortunately this protest is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Government should brace for more fallout from disgruntled public servants.

In my experience, such sweeping changes lead to increased complaints from staff, higher levels of sick leave, absenteeism and misconduct.

Under the new legislation the NSW Government will have the power to stipulate wages and conditions for public servants.

In effect, the legislation puts a 2.5 per cent annual cap on wages increases, unless productivity savings are delivered. It also requires the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to consent to its policy.

The NSW Opposition, Greens and unions have waged an angry campaign against the reforms, which they say will give the government unprecedented power.

But Premier Barry O'Farrell maintains the changes will not lead to any cuts in public sector wages and conditions.

Opposition Leader John Robertson says the changes will send the workplace rights of public servants "back to the dark ages".

Whichever way you look at it, significant changes to employee rights fundamentally change the way employees feel about their employers.

Government employees in particular, many of whom work in the health and care sectors, traditionally have high levels of engagement with their employers and those receiving their services.

Undermining this relationship will damage the commitment felt by staff, reduce motivation to comply with policy and compound work-related stress already present in the overloaded services.

Whilst most people will continue to comply with departmental policies, increased disengagement will have an effect on a minority and reduce their incentive to act in the best interest of the public. The policy is going to increase the incidents of corrupt conduct, misconduct and complaints.

Sadly, no one normally carries a budget for complaints management subsumed as part of a general HR budget. These issues will take up more of the pie and leave less money for “positive” staff improvements by HR departments.

The action is also likely to give rise to an increasing level of resignations in already understaffed areas such as hospitals, family services, disability services and aged care.

There is no doubt workers are very upset about the way these laws have been imposed.

The fallout that follows will be just as upsetting for Government and public sector management.

* Harriet Stacey, is the co-founder and principal of Wise Workplace Investigations.  Harriet specialises in corporate investigations and disciplinary processes. She has been involved in more than 150 investigations since the company’s inception – predominantly in the NSW public sector.