Risky business – when offending hits the workplace

The case of Philip Barnes was recently laid bare in New Zealand media when his name suppression order was lifted. It’s a good reminder about what not to do when, as a manager, you learn that a staff member may have been involved in offending.

The case

In 2017, International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) management learned that Barnes (a General Manager) was involved in a Police investigation of spying in a gym changing room. Police uplifted Barnes’ computer from IANZ and returned it a few days later.

In June 2018, Barnes pleaded guilty to making an intimate visual recording. He sought and got name suppression. In 2020, he was discharged without conviction and granted permanent name suppression. Both orders were successfully appealed by Police and recently, the name suppression order was lifted.

While Barnes was being investigated by Police, IANZ conducted an investigation. A minimal investigation.  They questioned Barnes and accepted his assurances that he was involved, basically, as “someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

3 lessons 

Don’t turn a blind eye

In this case, offending occurred outside work.  Even so, as a manager, you can’t assume that the offending will not impact on the business.

An employee’s conduct outside of work may bring an agency into disrepute.  This was clearly a risk for IANZ.

Turning a blind eye, by accepting Barnes’ explanation for the Police investigation without checking objective facts, exposed IANZ to significant risk.

Even if offending is alleged to have occurred outside work, as a manager, it’s important that you make reasonable inquires to apprise yourself of the facts.

You don’t have to duplicate the Police investigation. It’s important not to interfere with it.

But it is important that you make sufficient inquiry to fully understand the nature and possible consequences of the allegation(s) to your staff, organisation and client base.

Don’t assume innocence or guilt

We all want to believe the best of people, particularly of staff who we work beside each day and we know to be hardworking. Conversely, we may be more inclined to think a staff member is guilty if we don’t like them.

Either way, hold off. Resist any such assumption.

Your best bet is to be as dispassionate as possible about the allegation(s), while being compassionate and fair to the staff member concerned and any affected staff or others.  This will enable you to undertake a reasonable and balanced inquiry into the nature of the allegation(s) and scope the risks associated with them.

Assess and manage risk

The major omissions in the IANZ/Barnes case were the failure to make a reasonable inquiry into the Police investigation. Secondly, IANZ failed to fully scope, assess and manage risks, including risk to its reputation as an agency that’s all about upholding standards.

Risk assessment and management are key tasks for management when confronted with alleged offending by an employee.

Risks to the victim(s), staff member, clients, colleagues, and to the reputation of the agency must all be assessed.

Mitigations established as necessary.  They might involve suspension, a change of duties, extra supervision, change of workplace or work hours, etc – depending on the situation, level and nature of risk(s).  Mitigations need to be worked out with the employee concerned and their effectiveness monitored and adjusted accordingly.


Learn from what IANZ didn’t do.

Review your policies and procedures to make sure they guide you and your staff to respond if staff  become involved in a Police investigation.

At the Policy Place we’ve got you covered if you’re a member of our online policy service. Risk management is an important feature of our online policies eg policies on Background and Child Safety Checking, Quality Assurance, Service delivery and Health and Safety.

If you want to know you’re covered with good policies that are reviewed and kept up-to-date contact us to join the online policy service or book a free consultation to talk about your needs.