A media company request for full results of a staff satisfaction survey conducted by a local authority raised issues of privacy, confidentiality and free and frank expression of opinions, a case note released by the Office of the Ombudsman says.
Ombudsman Leo Donnelly says Fairfax Media requested the council provide "the full research company report on the staff satisfaction survey completed earlier this month" in December 2014.
The council refused the request, relying on sections 7(2)(a) [privacy] and section 7(2)(c) [confidentiality] of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.
Fairfax Media's response was that it did not seek the identities of any individuals who had responded to the survey, and that any comments clearly attributable to individual staff members could be redacted. The council continued to refuse the request, noting that the Chief Executive considered he had an obligation of confidence to his staff, and that the staff survey results formed a part of his performance review.
The Ombudsman's case note includes a set of general principles that ought to be considered by agencies when a request of this type is received.
Applying these principles, the Ombudsman says good reason under the LGOIMA did not exist to withhold the aggregated survey results, except for the result to one aspect of the survey, titled "engagement profile" This was the result that bore directly on the assessment of the Chief Executive's performance, and was therefore confidential to the employment relationship.
The Ombudsman also said the individual responses of staff members could be withheld under section 7(2)(c)(i).
"These were highly personalised and sensitive comments, attributable to individual staff members. Public interest factors favouring disclosure did not outweigh the interest in maintaining confidentiality."
The Ombudsman recommended that the aggregated information be released to Fairfax Media, and the council complied with this recommendation.