The new Model Code of Conduct and accompanying Procedures have now commenced operation in Councils across NSW.
However, while the division of the Code into two distinct documents is a somewhat radical change from the past, for the vast majority of conduct issues arising within Councils, the processes needing to be used post March 2013 is not too dis-similar to those applying previously.
Process for dealing with complaints about staff
This is because for complaints about staff members (apart from the General Manager), the process and procedures to be used for enquiring into these complaints and reaching a resolution remains basically the same, with a few notable changes.
Key process changes for staff complaint matters
The new Code of Conduct, designed to set out the standards of conduct expected of Council staff (and others), has created a new class of standards focused on maintaining the integrity of the new Code – internal and external investigators will need to take these into account.
More changes are set out in the new Procedures and those dealing with misconduct issues involving staff members will need to incorporate into their investigations the following:
? a long awaited definition of what constitutes a “Code of Conduct complaint”
? the requirement for complaints (as defined) to be made within 3 months of the alleged conduct (or becoming aware of the alleged conduct) unless compelling grounds exist
? revised rights of review concerning the Procedures lie with the Division of Local Government.
Mediation and ADR to play an expanded role
As set out in O’Connell’s LG Update 1, Conduct reviewers appointed by Councils have a greatly increased role under the new Procedures, especially concerning complaints against councillors or the general manager. These include the undertaking of a preliminary assessment within 28 days of the complaint to determine how the complaint should be handled ie
– decide to take no action;
– refer matter to a conduct review committee;
– refer matter to an outside agency ie ICAC, DLG;
– refer matter to mediation or alternative resolution strategies; or
– decide to undertake an investigation into the complaint.
While traditional investigative skills have been the hallmark of investigators used by Councils in the past, the new emphasis on mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) will provide additional means of resolving matters that may not have been finalised by traditional methods of investigation.
It is important for HR staff and Complaints Coordinators to ensure that those undertaking investigations into conduct issues use the new definition of Code of Conduct Complaint.
TO STAY ON TOP OF THIS ISSUE YOU WILL NEED TO:
– take action to inform staff, councillors and delegate/committee members of the new Code and Procedures
– don’t forget union delegates and other support staff
While a number of Councils have been quick to schedule training and briefings on the new Code and Procedures, most Councils are now beginning to plan for such activities.
For those Councils yet to undertake their training or briefing program, a suggested agenda could include:
– division of Code into two documents and the reason
– outline of the new Code of Conduct + revised provisions;
– outline of the new Procedures and its new provisions;
– details on the “Code of Conduct complaint” definition;
– details on new time limit for complaints;
– details on revised rights of review.
It is considered that the new definition as well as the new time limits for complaints will be the most contentious and these matters could be the subject of a number of case examples to assist staff to better understand the implications of the new processes on them and their fellow colleagues.
Contact O’Connell for its list of case studies for use in these briefings.
Don’t forget union delegates and other support staff
While the USU and other staff associations with members in local government are expected to provide training and other resources to their delegates over time, Councils may benefit from providing a separate briefing to these staff in order to:
– Advise them of the progress of Council’s implementation of the new Code and Procedures;
– Provide them with details of briefing materials to be used for staff briefings and the ability to ask questions on these.
O’Connell Workplace Relations can assist
With over 20 years’ experience in assisting Councils, O’Connell can assist your Council in the following ways:
? Develop and/or conduct briefings on the new Code and Procedures for your Council, especially for staff with supervisory roles, senior managers and your councillors;
? Provide accredited specialists with extensive experience of workplace mediations and ADR in NSW local government.