The State Services Commission has confirmed that an independent inquiry had begun after “serious allegations” were made about the conduct of Katrina Bach.
It is understood Ms Bach was involved in an altercation with employee Jaime Rawlings in front of several other staffers. It is understood she swore at and manhandled Ms Rawlings.
Katrina Bach is a senior public servant having held several management roles including Internal Affairs and Treasury. Her contact centre says that she is currently on sick leave.
The Department of Building and Housing is responsible for administering building and housing sector legislation, regulating the building and rental housing sector and providing advice and dispute resolution services, employs about 200 staff at its national office in Wellington.
Having a senior public servant investigated for serious misconduct is unprecedented in my memory. It must mean that there is sufficient evidence for disciplinary action because placing a Chief Executive under investigation is a major step.
We like to think of the New Zealand workplace as an egalitarian place but in reality the junior staff are ok to be cannon fodder in disciplinary investigations, but senior management tend to operate above the clouds so to speak when it comes to enforcing policy.
From the little details given the presence of multiple witnesses seems to be the driving force behind the allegations. If their accounts stack up against Katrina Bach, then policy is clear and her situation would probably become untenable.
An altercation with an employee is not a good way to derail a distinguished career, but the State Services Commission will be wanting to send a clear message out regarding bullying and harassment – no one is above the law.
No doubt the details of the events will be splashed over the media, but I hope there is some discretion here and the truth is arrived at and acted upon.
Often with high profile incidents like this, there is often political bullying and ethical puritanism that tend to influence the outcome.