CODE OF GOOD PRACTICE : DISMISSAL
Schedule 8 of Labour Relations Act
[Schedule 8 amended by s. 57 of Act No. 42 of 1996 and by s.56 of Act No. 12 of 2002.]
- This code of good practice deals with some of the key aspects of dismissal for reasons related to conduct and capacity. It is intentionally general. Each case is unique, and departures from the norms established by this Code may be justified in proper circumstances. For example, the number of employees employed in an establishment may warrant a different approach.
- This Act emphasises the primary of collective agreements. This Code is not intended as a substitute for disciplinary codes and procedures where these are the subject of collective agreements, or the outcome of joint decision-making by an employer and a work-place forum.
- The key principle in this Code is that employers and employees should treat one another with mutual respect. A premium is placed on both employment justice and the efficient operation of business. While employees should be protected from arbitrary action, employers are entitled to satisfactory conduct and work performance from their employees.
2. Fair reasons for dismissal.
- A dismissal is unfair if it is not effected for a fair reason and in accordance with a fair procedure, even if it complies with any notice period in a contract of employment or in legislation governing employment. Whether or not a dismissal is for a fair reason is determined by the facts of the case, and the appropriateness of dismissal as a penalty. Whether or not the procedure is fair is determined by referring to the guidelines set out below.
- This Act recognises three grounds on which a termination of employment might be legitimate. These are: the conduct of the employee, the capacity of the employee, and the operational requirements of the employer's business.
- This Act provides that a dismissal is automatically unfair if the reason for the dismissal is one that amounts to an infringement of the fundamental rights of employees and trade unions, or if the reason is one of those listed in section 187. The reasons include participation in a lawful strike, intended or actual pregnancy and acts of discrimination.
- In cases where the dismissal is not automatically unfair, the employer must show that the reason for dismissal is a reason related to the employee's conduct or capacity, or is based on the operational requirements of the business. If the employer fails to do that, or fails to prove that the dismissal was effected in accordance with a fair procedure, the dismissal is unfair.
Disciplinary procedures prior to dismissal
3. Disciplinary measures short of dismissal.
- All employers should adopt disciplinary rules that establish the standard of conduct required of their employees. The form and content of disciplinary rules will obviously vary according to the size and nature of the employer's business. In general, a larger business will require a more formal approach to discipline. An employer's rules must create certainty and consistency in the application of discipline. This requires that the standards of conduct are clear and made available to employees in a manner that is easily understood. Some rules or standards may be so well established and known that it is not necessary to communicate them.
- The courts have endorsed the concept of corrective or progressive discipline. This approach regards the purpose of discipline as a means for employees to know and understand what standards are required of them. Efforts should be made to correct employees' behaviour through a system of graduated disciplinary measures such as counselling and warnings.
- Formal procedures do not have to be invoked every time a rule is broken or a standard is not met. Informal advice and correction is the best and most effective way for an employer to deal with minor violations of work discipline. Repeated misconduct will warrant warnings, which themselves may be graded according to degrees of severity. More serious infringements or repeated misconduct may call for a final warning, or other action short of dismissal. Dismissal should be reserved for cases of serious misconduct or repeated offences.
Dismissals for misconduct
- Generally, it is not appropriate to dismiss an employee for a first offence, except if the misconduct is serious and of such gravity that it makes a continued employment relationship intolerable. Examples of serious misconduct, subject to the rule that each case should be judged on its merits, are gross dishonesty or wilful damage to the property of the employer, wilful endangering of the safety of others physical assault on the employer, a fellow employee, client or customer and gross insubordination. Whatever the merits of the case for dismissal might be, a dismissal will not be fair if it does not meet the requirements of section 188.
- When deciding whether or not to impose the penalty of dismissal, the employer should in addition to the gravity of the misconduct consider factors such as the employee's circumstances (including length of service, previous disciplinary record and personal circumstances), the nature of the job and the circumstances of the infringement itself.
- The employer should apply the penalty of dismissal consistently with the way in which it has been applied to the same and other employees in the past, and consistently as between two or more employees who participate in the misconduct under consideration.
4. Fair procedure.
- Normally, the employer should conduct an investigation to determine whether there are grounds for dismissal. This does not need to be a formal enquiry. The employer should notify the employee of the allegations using a form and language that the employee can reasonably understand. The employee should be allowed the opportunity to state a case in response to the allegations. The employee should be entitled to a reasonable time to prepare the response and to the assistance of a trade union representative or fellow employee. After the enquiry, the employer should communicate the decision taken, and preferably furnish the employee with written notification of that decision.
- Discipline against a trade union representative or an employee who is an office-bearer or official of a trade union should not be instituted without first informing and consulting the trade union.
- If the employee is dismissed, the employee should be given the reason for dismissal and reminded of any rights to refer the matter to a council with jurisdiction or to the Commission or to any dispute resolution procedures established in terms of a collective agreement.
- In exceptional circumstances, if the employer cannot reasonably be expected to comply with these guidelines, the employer may dispense with pre-dismissal procedures.
5. Disciplinary records.
Employers should keep records for each employee specifying the nature of any disciplinary transgressions, the actions taken by the employer and the reasons for the actions.
6. Dismissals and industrial action.
- Participation in a strike that does not comply with the provisions of chapter IV is misconduct. However, like any other act of misconduct, it does not always deserve dismissal. The substantive fairness of dismissal in these circumstances must be determined in the light of the facts of the case, including -
- the seriousness of the contravention of this Act;
- attempts made to comply with this Act; and
- whether or not the strike was in response to unjustified conduct by the employer.
- Prior to dismissal the employer should, at the earliest opportunity, contact a trade union official to discuss the course of action it intends to adopt. The employer should issue an ultimatum in clear and unambiguous terms that should state what is required of the employees and what sanction will be imposed if they do not comply with the ultimatum. The employees should be allowed sufficient time to reflect on the ultimatum and respond to it, either by complying with it or rejecting it. If the employer cannot reasonably be expected to extend these steps to the employees in question, the employer may dispense with them.
7. Guidelines in cases of dismissal for misconduct.
Any person who is determining whether a dismissal for misconduct is unfair should consider-
- whether or not the employee contravened a rule or standard regulating conduct in, or of relevance to, the work-place; and
- if a rule or standard was contravened, whether or not-
- the rule was a valid or reasonable rule or standard;
- the employee was aware, or could reasonably be expected to have been aware, of the rule or standard;
- the rule or standard has been consistently applied by the employer; and
- dismissal with an appropriate sanction for the contravention of the rule or standard.
- An employer may require a newly-hired employee to serve a period of probation before the appointment of the employee is confirmed.
- The purpose of probation is to give the employer an opportunity to evaluate the employee's performance before confirming the appointment.
- Probation should not be used for purposes not contemplated by this Code to deprive employees of the status of permanent employment. For example, a practice of dismissing employees who complete their probation periods and replacing them with newly-hired employees, is not consistent with the purpose of probation and constitutes an unfair labour practice.
- The period of probation should be determined in advance and be of reasonable duration. The length of the probationary period should be determined with reference to the nature of the job and the time it takes to determine the employee's suitability for continued employment.
- During the probationary period, the employee's performance should be assessed. An employer should give an employee reasonable evaluation, instruction, training, guidance or counselling in order to allow the employee to render a satisfactory service.
- If the employer determines that the employee's performance is below standard, the employer should advise the employee of any aspects in which the employer considers the employee to be failing to meet the required performance standards. If the employer believes that the employee is incompetent, the employer should advise the employee of the respects in which the employee is not competent. The employer may either extend the probationary period or dismiss the employee after complying with subitems (g) or (h), as the case may be.
- The period of probation may only be extended for a reason that relates to the purpose of probation. The period of extension should not be disproportionate to the legitimate purpose that the employer seeks to achieve.
- An employer may only decide to dismiss an employee or extend the probationary period after the employer has invited the employee to make representations and has considered any representations made. A trade union representative or fellow employee may make the representations on behalf of the employee.
- If the employer decides to dismiss the employee or to extend the probationary period, the employer should advise the employee of his or her rights to refer the matter to a council having jurisdiction, or to the Commission.
- Any person making a decision about the fairness of a dismissal of an employee for poor work performance during or on expiry of the probationary period ought to accept reasons for dismissal that may be less compelling than would be the case in dismissals effected after the completion of the probationary period.
- After probation, an employee should not be dismissed for unsatisfactory performance unless the employer has-
- given the employee appropriate evaluation, instruction, training, guidance or counselling; and
- after a reasonable period of time for improvement, the employee continues to perform unsatisfactorily.
- The procedure leading to dismissal should include an investigation to establish the reasons for the unsatisfactory performance and the employer should consider other ways, short of dismissal, to remedy the matter.
- In the process, the employee should have the right to be heard and to be assisted by a trade union representative or a fellow employee.
9. Guidelines in cases of dismissal for poor work performance.
Any person determining whether a dismissal for poor work performance is unfair should consider-
- whether or not the employee failed to meet a performance standard; and
- if the employee did not meet a required performance standard whether or not-
- the employee was aware, or could reasonably be expected to have been aware, of the required performance standard;
- the employee was given a fair opportunity to meet the required performance standard; and
- dismissal was an appropriate sanction for not meeting the required performance standard.
10. Incapacity: Ill health and injury.
- Incapacity on the grounds of ill health or injury may be temporary or permanent. If an employee is temporarily unable to work in these circumstances, the employer should investigate the extent of the incapacity or the injury. If the employee is likely to be absent for a time that is unreasonably long in the circumstances, the employer should investigate all the possible alternatives short of dismissal. When alternatives are considered, relevant factors might include the nature of the job, the period of absence, the seriousness of the illness or injury and the possibility of securing a temporary replacement for the ill or injured employee. In cases of permanent incapacity, the employer should ascertain the possibility of securing alternative employment, or adapting the duties or work circumstances of the employee to accommodate the employee’s disability.
- In the process of the investigation referred to in subsection (1) the employee should be allowed the opportunity to state a case in response and to be assisted by a trade union representative or fellow employee.
- The degree of incapacity is relevant to the fairness of any dismissal. The cause of the incapacity may also be relevant. In the case of certain kinds of incapacity, for example alcoholism or drug abuse, counselling and rehabilitation may be appropriate steps for an employer to consider.
- Particular consideration should be given to employees who are injured at work or who are incapacitated by work-related illness. The courts have indicated that the duty on the employer to accommodate the incapacity of the employee is more onerous in these circumstances.
11. Guidelines in cases of dismissal arising from ill health or injury.
Any person determining whether a dismissal arising from ill health or injury is unfair should consider-
- whether or not the employee is capable of performing the work; and
- if the employee is not capable-
- the extent to which the employee is able to perform the work;
- the extent to which the employee's work circumstances might be adapted to accommodate disability, or, where this is not possible, the extent to which the employee's duties might be adapted; and
- the availability of any suitable alternative work.