The principle of progressive discipline is incorporated into the Labour Relations Act, Schedule 8(3). This was established with the purpose that employees know and understand the standards required of them in the position they are employed.
Progressive Discipline is most effective when all employees are informed of the rules of the workplace, and this is usually done by having a meeting with all employees explaining the rules, as well as handing each of them a printed copy of said rules.
Subsequently if an employee has broken a rule or committed a transgression, he or she can receive a warning not to do so again. Warnings will be graded by the severity of the transgression, but the normal procedure would be to give a verbal warning (and also make a written note thereof), written warning, final written warning, and lastly a disciplinary hearing will be held for repeating the same offence.
It is important to note that the warnings can only progress in severity if the same offence is repeated, for example an employee constantly coming late. Employers may for example, not give a written warning for coming late, and then give the same employee a final written warning for misconduct because he/she already had a written warning on file. Progressive Discipline is only implemented if all warnings (verbal, written and final) were given for repeating the same offence. In short, this means that each separate offence has its own separate list of required consecutive warnings.
Progressive Discipline should not be confused with poor work performance, as Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act has a separate procedure that needs to be implemented in case of poor work performance.
Employers should also be aware that it is not always a pre-requisite to follow Progressive Discipline before an employee can be dismissed. It all depends on the scope of the business and the severity of the transgression, as progressive discipline is mainly there to deal with minor transgressions and serious offences may justify dismissal without previous warnings.
Article by: Leonard Nieuwoudt
CEO Dispute Resolution Official – Polokwane