Disciplinary action can be taken against employees that have committed a form of misconduct. There are different forms of discipline, the form that will justify the offence depends on the seriousness of the offence and whether the employee has breached the particular rule before. The following forms of discipline can be used (in order of severity):

· Verbal warning;
· Written warning;
· Final written warning;
· Suspension without pay (for a limited period);
· Demotion, as an alternative to dismissal only; or
· Dismissal.

The employer should establish how serious an offence is, with reference to the disciplinary rules within the company. If the offence is not of a very serious nature, informal disciplinary action can be taken by giving an employee a verbal warning. On the other hand, a formal disciplinary step would include written warnings and the other forms of discipline listed above.

A final written warning could be given in cases where the contravention of the rule is serious or where the employee has received warnings for the same offence before. The employer can hold an enquiry if the employer believes that it is only through hearing evidence that the outcome can be determined.

Written warnings often remain valid for a period of three to six months. Final written warnings often remain valid for twelve months. A warning for one type of contravention does not apply to a different kind of offence. In other words, a first written warning for arriving late at work could not lead to a second written warning for insubordination.

Employees will be requested to sign warning letters as an acknowledgement of receipt thereof and will be given an opportunity to state their objections, should there be any. Should an employee refuse to sign a warning letter, this would not make the warning invalid. A witness can be requested to sign the warning, confirming that the employee refused to acknowledge receipt of the warning.

Dismissal is reserved for the most serious of offences and must be preceded by a fair disciplinary enquiry unless exceptional circumstances result in a disciplinary enquiry becoming either an impossibility (e.g., the employee absconded and never returned) or undesirable (e.g., holding an enquiry will endanger life or property).

Article by: Tammy Koekemoer
Dispute Resolution Official – Bloemfontein