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The staff disciplinary boards in government agencies (On the public sector)

The scope of the study

The Swedish Agency for Public Management has studied the way in which staff disciplinary boards in government agencies are organised and the way they work, and the potential role they play in efforts to create a sound administrative culture in central government. The starting point is that the Swedish Agency for Public Management's assignment in accordance with its instruction is to provide the Government with documentation in order to enable the development of public administration policy and promote efforts to create a sound administrative culture in central government.

Staff disciplinary boards

The staff disciplinary board is an employer body whose task is to examine the question of disciplinary responsibility where an employee is accused of misconduct or other misdemeanours. These could be different forms of mismanagement, deviation from procedures, offensive behaviour and discrimination, infringements regarding working hours or unauthorised use of the agency's equipment.

The board can decide on sanctions in the form of removal from one's post, a warning, salary deduction, prosecution and suspension. Just over 70 per cent of all government agencies have a staff disciplinary board.

Three quarters of all staff disciplinary boards have permanent members. The director-general is the chair of the staff disciplinary board which must also consist of staff representatives. In most cases the agencies decide themselves on the other members. They usually include the head of HR or an HR officer together with the head of the legal department or another lawyer.

One in five agencies has set up a special office or the equivalent which prepares the cases for the staff disciplinary board, and just over one in three have set specific guidelines for the work done by the board. A special organisation and specific guidelines are most commonly found in the agencies that deal with a relatively large number of staff disciplinary cases.

Staff disciplinary cases during the period 2013 to 2017

Our survey covers all the staff disciplinary cases dealt with by the agencies during the period 2013 to 2017. There were in total just under 1,700 cases.

In most agencies staff disciplinary cases are rare. Seventy per cent of the agencies had at most one case during this period. Six agencies each had more than 50 cases during this period. Together these accounted for more than three quarters of all the cases. All six agencies have more than 8,000 employees.
In just over 70 per cent of the cases the measure taken was that decided on by staff disciplinary board. The most common measure was a warning, which accounted for just over 40 per cent of the measures decided on. Salary deduction and prosecution each accounted for about 20 per cent of the measures.

How the agencies view the role of a staff disciplinary board

Agencies with only a few staff disciplinary cases seldom express a view on what the role of a staff disciplinary board should be. Of those who do express a view, nine out of ten feel that having a staff disciplinary board is a good or fairly good idea. One aspect they highlight is that the formalised and transparent process involving a staff disciplinary board ensures greater legal certainty and helps promote more uniform employer policy.

One area of criticism is that the cases dealt with by the staff disciplinary board are time-consuming and require extensive documentation. Some agencies point to unclear regulations and procedures where a staff disciplinary case results in a prosecution. A common view is that a prosecution slows down the processing times in a case.

Staff disciplinary boards and the efforts to achieve a sound administrative culture

A sound administrative culture reflects the six principles that constitute the core values of the public sector. A sound administrative culture is also based on professional values that should be shared by all public-sector employees.
The work done by staff disciplinary boards and their drafting organisations is a potential source of knowledge and experience that can be put to good use in the efforts of the agencies to create a sound administrative culture. On this basis, we have interviewed representatives for six agencies whose staff disciplinary boards handle a large number of cases.

The conclusions from the interviews are that the agencies draw on their experiences of both the drafting process and the handling of cases by the staff disciplinary board to create a sound administrative culture. In many instances the cases handled by the staff disciplinary boards reflect issues concerning the view of the agency in question on how the work should be carried out and what constitutes a sound administrative culture. The cases can give a true picture of what the agency considers appropriate behaviour, and points to the need for various measures, which could be implementing targeted training, clarifying procedures, or providing better managerial support.

One prerequisite for the agencies to make systematic use of their experience of the work done by the staff disciplinary boards is to handle a certain number of cases per year. In those agencies where the board handles several cases per year, takes an active role and has regular meetings, this can work well.

Agencies that handle only one or two staff disciplinary cases per year can hardly make systematic use of their experiences. Nevertheless, having no more than the odd case is also a potential source of valuable information which can be used as part of the agency's efforts to create a sound administrative culture.