Next time you have a disagreement about professional opinion …

Hands up those amongst you who have not, at some stage, had a disagreement with a supervisor, or manager, or director or even GM, about your professional opinion. You know, where your professional opinion as an EHO, or building certifier or planner is rejected by the person you report to who presses you to recommend the opposite.

Too many examples come to mind in our office, including even a GM trying to direct a BPB accredited employee on the content of their decisions!

Section 352 (1) of the Local Government Act 1993 provides “a member of staff of the Council is not subject to direction by the Council as to the content of any advice or recommendation made by the member”.  A Council can direct a member of staff to provide advice or a recommendation but they are prohibited from directing its content.  That’s in 352(2).

This is an issue that comes up in a Council far too often. It’s awkward for an employee to deal with it, we recommend at the very least they keep proper records so that the paper trail shows that they did certain things but ideally, if the boss doesn’t like your professional advice, then the boss should take over providing the advice on the recommendation and sign it off themselves.

But wouldn’t it be nice if section 352 acknowledged that “the Council” also included those acting on behalf of the Council who regularly think it appropriate to direct an employee below them on the content of their advice or recommendation. We’ve been trying to talk the Office of Local Government into this. We have a long corporate memory and know that the Local Government Exposure Draft Bill did include that protection generally but it didn’t make it into the 1993 Act.

The Office of Local Government has agreed with our practical view and we now have their advice:

OLG would agree that where there is a difference of opinion between a professional planner and their manager on the content of a report or recommendation, the appropriate way to resolve this in practice would be for the manager to sign off on the report.

This is a real get out of jail free card for planners who can regularly be stood over to approve something that should be rejected, or reject something that should be approved and can apply equally to differences of professional opinion in public or environmental health or building control.

Don’t underestimate the value of this letter. Print it out and put it on your wall right in front of you and never forget that the OLG agrees that if the boss wants you to do something other than what you think is the right thing, the boss can make that recommendation themselves and sign it off.

This is not just a benefit of depa membership, it’s a protection for all professionals. Those who are not members can consider it a gift.

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