In the recent case of Mapyane v South African Police Service & Others (JR1948/10) ZALCJHB, the importance of prompt disciplinary proceedings was underscored. The Applicant was dismissed from the South African Police Service (SAPS) on 25 January 2016 due to misconduct related to five charges of fraudulent travel claims spanning from August 2010 to July 2012. Shockingly, a three-and-a-half-year delay in the disciplinary hearing without explanation led to a significant legal battle.

The Applicant’s claim for travel expenses, using personal transport while the employer provided transport, triggered the disciplinary action. Despite being served with a hearing notice and charge sheet on 25 February 2015, the delay prompted the Applicant to challenge the termination’s substantive and procedural fairness. The Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council (SSSBC) and subsequent review at the Labour Court (LC) highlighted the employer’s disregard for disciplinary regulations mandating prompt action. The Applicant argued that the arbitrator’s delay, memory lapses, witness death, and evidence challenges invalidated their dismissal and made it procedurally unfair.

The LC, drawing on the Constitutional Court’s precedent of Stokwe v Member of the Executive Council: Department of Education, Eastern Cape and Others [2018] ZACC 3, emphasised the need to assess various factors in cases of procedural delay. This ruling supported the use of multiple criminal factors in labour law cases when evaluating the length of delay to initiate or conclude disciplinary actions. Several factors must be considered, including the length of the delay and the explanation of why the delay occurred, whether the employee attempted to assert their right to a speedy process, any material prejudice to the employee resulting from the delay, as well as the nature of the alleged offence.

The Applicant further argued that the arbitrator failed to evaluate inherent probabilities and relied solely on credibility findings. The LC, aligning with this argument, ruled that the prolonged delay compromised procedural fairness. As a public authority, the Respondent was required to follow the guidelines in the Disciplinary Regulations and proceed with disciplinary action immediately. The LC also ruled that the Applicant had a duty to uphold integrity and honesty, as these are essential qualities for National Law Enforcement Agencies and affirmed the arbitrator’s findings regarding substantive fairness. Accordingly, the LC ordered compensation equivalent to three month’s salary to the Applicant and found that only procedural fairness was unfair.

Although a public-sector case, this decision holds vital implications for all employers. The lesson is clear: Employers must promptly discipline staff engaging in misconduct, aligning with the Labor Relations Act’s core principle of resolving disputes swiftly.

Article by Kgolo Mofokeng

Administrator at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)