Public service bosses have been warned about naughty ex-staff using the sin of omission to climb the career ladder elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy.

As reported in recent days the Australian Public Service Commission has warned departmental executives about the danger of not issuing findings to bad apples in code of conduct inquiries.

The APSC’s updated Handling misconduct: a human resource manager’s guide wanted to reduce any instances of the penalty system across the bureaucracy being ad hoc and unfair.

The same advice says guilty staff might use it as a loophole to get a job somewhere else.The guide says it is within the rights of former staff, when asked about any previous history of misconduct, to tell their new employer they had “not been the subject of a determination”.

Guilty employees can transfer to a job elsewhere in the public service to increase the likelihood of managers at their old job halting investigations and not making a determination.

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A former employee is not obliged to cooperate with an investigation and an agency head has no power to direct the former employee to provide information or attend interviews, according to the guide.

There are limits, however, to how much a job change can protect someone who has done something wrong.

“Where attempts to contact a former employee by telephone, email or by registered mail have failed, an agency may be satisfied that reasonable attempts have been made to inform the former employee of the allegations and continue the investigation,” the guide says.

A person who has left a department mid-investigation also cannot, without lying and exposing themselves, tell a potential future employer no allegations have been made about them.

The guide says an employer may wish to rely on the honesty of a job applicant’s declarations about their prior conduct records but “it would, nonetheless, be prudent for a delegate to confirm that information with the candidate’s current agency or employer”.

The latest guide on how to handle misconduct advises public service bosses about the impacts of changes made by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 and the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.

It is only possible to start misconduct action against a former employee who left the Australian Public Service on or after July 1, 2013, because of reforms introduced by changes to the Public Service Act 1999 in 2013.

If not done the agency could end up facing reputational damage and it could set a bad example for other staff at the department.

The APSC, which oversees 160,000 federal public servants, also asked agency bosses to keep sanctions for misconduct consistent so the penalty system was not undermined.