As many as 132 staff thought they had been given voluntary redundancy in the lead up to Christmas.

The Department of Justice has been left red-faced after telling 132 prisons staff they had been approved for voluntary redundancy, only to retract the offer more than 24 hours later.

A department spokeswoman confirmed the embarrassing administrative blunder, blaming “human error” for an email sent about 1.20pm on Thursday, December 14 to the staff who had applied through the State Government’s voluntary targeted separation scheme.

It was not until 4.53pm the following day that a second email went out advising the staff that no final decision had been made about their application.

According to anecdotal reports from staff speaking to The West Australian on the condition of anonymity, by then many of the workers had left for the day and spent big on Christmas during the weekend. Others accepted job offers elsewhere or made plans to move house or interstate.

The spokeswoman said the department was unaware of any specific instances of hardship but was “aware this may have caused some anxiety”.

She said no monetary offer had been made in the initial email.

“This was an unfortunate human error and the initial communication had not been approved by the director general (Adam Tomison),” the spokeswoman said.

“The Department apologises for the mistake and we have made every effort to correct the situation as soon as practically possible.”

A Government spokesman revealed the voluntary redundancy scheme cutting 3000 positions from the public sector would include 200 from the Department of Justice.

Shadow corrective services minister Zak Kirkup said the Government had raised the hopes and expectations of the staff, who would have been able to work out what their redundancy package would have been via a formula.

He criticised the time it took to correct the error.

“It doesn’t seem to me that there’s been a proper process that’s been followed,” he said.