The New Zealand Herald

Retirement Commission­er probe handled ‘shockingly’

- Tamsyn Parker

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.

 ??  ?? Retirement Commission­er Diane Maxwell has been cleared of bullying allegation­s.
Retirement Commission­er Diane Maxwell has been cleared of bullying allegation­s.

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