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.

Dismissal is only one of several penalties that the employer can impose against an employee who has committed misconduct. Examples of these other penalties that may be imposed are, verbal warnings, written warnings, final written warnings, suspension without pay and demotion.

The Code of Good Practice: Dismissal item 3 (2) emphasises the concept of corrective or progressive discipline as a first option. 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 are the best and most effective ways for an employer to deal with minor violations of work discipline. The employer may, for example, advise the employee there and then that his conduct is unacceptable.

Another example of progressive discipline can be seen from the guidelines of the Code of Good Practice for repeated minor violations. This repeated misconduct will warrant warnings, which themselves may be graded according to degrees of severity. For example, for the first offence, a verbal warning might be prescribed. A second occurrence of the same offence might warrant a written warning.

More serious infringements or repeated misconduct may call for a final written warning, or other action short of dismissal, such as suspension without pay or demotion.

Dismissal should be reserved for cases of serious misconduct or repeated offences.

Article by: Porthri Blauw
Dispute Resolution Official – George