Complaints / Requests for Review

Throughout 2013 the Commission received a significant number of enquiries and informal complaints in addition to the large number of formal requests for review under Section 8 of the Code of Practice. That said, the Commission is satisfied that there is, in the main, a genuine commitment among Office Holders to achieve and maintain high standards in the selection and appointment of candidates to public service positions. Furthermore based on its experience of examining complaints the Commission believes there is a keen awareness and understanding among Office Holders of their responsibilities and obligations under the Codes of Practice.

The management of complaints both formal and informal was, once again, a significant feature of the Commission’s workload during the year. There was a marked increase in the number of requests for review received by the Commission in 2013 albeit from a very low base relative to the previous year. Many of these complaints were made against the Health Service Executive (HSE) which conducted a number of national campaigns involving large volumes of candidates. However the Commission is satisfied that the number of complaints against the HSE is relatively small in comparison to the overall number of candidates and the numbers of appointments made across the health service.

The Commission’s examination of complaints involves a comprehensive review of all aspects of the appointment process and, where appropriate, of relevant personnel. In dealing with a complaint, the Commission’s remit is to address and respond to the complainant’s allegations of breaches of the Code principles following a full and thorough investigation in line with the standards and procedures outlined in the Code. Besides the Section 8 reviews conducted by the Commission, candidates are also provided with informal advice and information in response to enquiries about different aspects of the appointments process.

During the examination of a complaint the Commission engages with the relevant Office Holder which provides an opportunity to offer guidance and advice on best practice in the appointment process. This is an important aspect of the Commission’s role in upholding the principles of probity, merit, equity and fairness in recruitment and selection practices.

Review Procedures

There are two distinct review procedures. The first applies in cases in which a candidate is unhappy with a decision in relation to his or her candidature (but does not believe that there was a breach of the Code) and wishes to have that decision reviewed. The review of a recruitment decision is conducted by the Office Holder. The Commission cannot overturn the decision of the licence holder and, aside from setting out how the review should be conducted, has no role in this process.

The second review procedure applies in cases where a person believes that an appointments process has breached the Code and wishes to have it investigated. The complainant must make the complaint to the Office Holder in the first instance. If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the Office Holder’s review, he or she may request the Commission to investigate the alleged breach of the Code. In this particular regard, the Commission’s powers are limited. The Commission may, amongst other things, amend or revoke the recruitment licence of a public body, however, it does not have the power to alter a recruitment decision once it has been made and is, in fact, expressly precluded from doing this by the terms of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. In 2011 the Commission made a number of recommendations to Office Holders with a view to addressing shortcomings identified during its investigations.

Breaches of the Code of Practice

A summary of some of the complaints investigated during 2013 is provided below:-

  • A complaint was received from a candidate who took part in a confined competition for a senior position in a Government Office. The Complainant was unhappy with the assessment process and had concerns that the marking system for assessing candidates did not reflect the specific duties and responsibilities set out in the circular advertising the post.

    Having reviewed the supporting documentation for the process, and taking account of the views of the interview board members, the Commission was satisfied that the approach adopted by the selection board was underpinned by clear job and person specifications and was directly related to the skills necessary for the role. However it found some of the technical aspects to the role, while properly recalled by the board members in their discussion with the commission and indeed reflected in the interview notes, were not clearly identifiable in the recorded selection criteria. The Commission recommended a review of the correlation between the stated requirements for the role and the selection criteria used to assess candidates at interview to ensure an open and transparent process and to support meaningful feedback to candidates.

  • The Commission examined a complaint alleging breaches of the Code arising from a decision of the Office Holder to deviate from its planned selection process. The documentation available to candidates and indeed the correspondence from the Office Holder provided for three separate stages. However, at the end of the second stage, the Office Holder decided it did not need to deploy the third stage which involved a presentation exercise.

In this case, the interview board members reached the view that the most suitable candidate for the job had been identified by stage 2 and that no further selection stage was necessary.

The Commission concluded that while the Office Holder had provided for a three stage process in the candidate information booklet, its principle error was in writing to candidates at the end of stage one saying that there would be two more stages to the process. While it was of the view that the complainant’s expectations had been poorly managed, in light of the relative performance of candidates at interview, it did understand why the final stage was unnecessary.