The New Zealand Herald
Retirement Commissioner probe handled ‘shockingly’
A reputation expert has slammed the Government’s handling of the costly investigation into Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell over the time it took and public nature of it.
But employment experts say it was handled appropriately and the six months it took was not uncommon.
Maxwell was cleared of bullying allegations last Wednesday and was back on the job on Thursday after being forced to take gardening leave for six months.
The allegations surfaced at the end of November and, on December 12, the State Services Commission appointed Queen’s Counsel Maria Dew to investigate at the request of Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi.
The report was due by February 28 but was delayed until early April.
A spokesman for the State Services Commission told the Herald the report cost around $118,000.
Faafoi had the report by April 18 but sat on it while he sought advice, finally releasing it on May 22.
Deborah Pead, who runs a public relations agency, said of the investigation: “I think it has been shockingly handled. I doubt you would get away with that in private practice.”
She said it was “appalling” that the allegations were made public before the outcome of the investigation was known and questioned why it had taken so long.
“Why does it take six months? It should been done in days with minimum disruption. That would have an impact on anyone’s career.”
Faafoi said the delays had been caused by the Queen’s Counsel asking for more time to complete the review and it took him a month to work through the response which included discussions with the Retirement Commissioner.
“The process was thorough as it should have been given the nature of the allegations.”
Pead said Maxwell had acknowledged her communication style needed to change. “Her best way is to get back into work and do a good job. Her work will speak for herself.”
But the challenge for Maxwell is she will be out of a job by the end of June with her contract set to end.
Faafoi announced in November he would not be reappointing Maxwell to the job after she had already had two terms.
Pead said that made it a challenge. “That is definitely a challenge having a limited time to demonstrate value.”
She said Maxwell did have a good reputation for raising the profile of retirement issues.
“The work she did prior to the accusations was exemplary. One hopes this will be seen for what it was — a false accusation from people that didn’t take well to her management style. I am hopeful for her this will blow over. I think it is grossly unfair what has happened to her — to be targeted without any substance.” John McGill, chief executive of Strategic Pay, a remuneration consultancy firm which deals with top executives, said the sixmonth timeframe for the investigation was undesirable but it was not surprising. “Sometimes these investigations do take an inordinate amount of time to do properly. It makes you want to tear your hair out but it is the nature of these inquiries that it takes longer than you think.” Catherine Stewart, a specialist employment lawyer, believed the Government had handled the situation appropriately by appointing an independent employment lawyer to investigate and report on the concerns.
“This removes any perception of bias that the employer might have in conducting an investigation of its own accord and is increasingly becoming a preferred process for private employers in bullying situations as well, particularly when there are multiple witnesses and the employer is a large organisation.”
Stewart said it was not normal for an employee to be awarded compensation when they are cleared of bullying allegations, unless they can establish that they have some legitimate claim arising from the process or outcome of the investigation.
“Ms Maxwell would probably need to raise a personal grievance to claim compensation and then compensation would not be awarded automatically but would be based on her being able to prove some unjustified action by her employer.”
Asked if the Government would be compensating Maxwell for legal costs and potential reputation damage, Faafoi said that would be an issue for the Retirement Commissioner to take up with the commission’s insurer.