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Whether placing an employee on a performance improvement plan was a fair and reasonable decision? Who has the authority to determine an employee’s duties?

An APS employee working in a client service role applied for secondary review of their agency’s decision to place them on a performance improvement plan.

The employee was concerned that their manager’s assessment of their performance was unfair and that the manager did not have a proper understanding of the role. The employee’s role involved completion of system-generated tasks, however the employee preferred to select the duties they performed and to make their own assessment of work priorities. The employee also raised concerns that the performance management process was vague and difficult to follow.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that the employee’s manager had engaged in a number of performance discussions with the employee over a period of several months. The manager had advised the employee that the productivity expectations of the role were not being met; the employee needed to focus on assigned tasks; and the number of breaks the employee was taking was not reasonable. The manager advised the employee that their output was less than satisfactory. The manager foreshadowed that a performance improvement plan would be required if the employee’s performance did not improve within the given time period.

After several performance discussions, the manager made an assessment of the employee’s performance and advised that a performance improvement plan would be implemented.

The Merit Protection Commissioner did not agree with the employee’s view that they were entitled to choose their own tasks to complete, rather than attending to the tasks allocated to them. The Merit Protection Commissioner concluded that it was appropriate to assess the employee’s performance against system data which recorded the rate of completion of assigned tasks and the percentage of time spent on breaks. The Merit Protection Commissioner considered that the employee’s managers had accurately and fairly assessed the employee’s performance over a period of several months and had reasonably concluded that the employee’s output was less than satisfactory.

The Merit Protection Commissioner concluded that the employee had considerable experience in the role; had been provided with clear feedback on performance expectations and how to improve performance; and the underperformance had been noted by more than one manager. The decision to place the employee on a performance improvement plan was reasonable and appropriate and had been made in compliance with the requirements of the relevant Enterprise Agreement.

This matter highlighted that, ultimately, it is managers’ responsibility to set performance expectations and employees are not generally free to pick and choose which of their duties they will perform. It also demonstrated the importance of a fair process with clear expectations, performance feedback and an opportunity to improve.

Further information about best practice performance management can be found on the APSC’s website: http://www.apsc.gov.au/managing-in-the-aps/performance.