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Six tips to deal with acting appointments so you don't land up with an unfair practice case on your hands!

by , 06 August 2015
Your customer services manager, Sally, is going on maternity leave for six months. You have no problem with that... What does worry you though, is how to fill her position. You have your eye on one of her subordinates, Brian, to fill in while she's away, but how do you let him take over without letting him think he's actually 'taking over'?

Use these six tips to make sure your employee knows this isn't a permanent arrangement
Tip#1: Sign an acting appointment contract
Both you and Brian must sign an acting appointment contract before he takes on the role. If you use someone external to fill the position temporarily, use a standard fixed-term contract. Just make sure you make changes to fit the position.
Tip#2: Don't create expectations of permanent employment
Don't give Brian, or any other acting appointment, the expectation the role is permanent. Tell him if Sally doesn't come back from maternity leave, he can apply for the position. Don't ever promise you'll put him in the position or create the expectation that you will.
If Brian doesn't get the permanent position after having high expectations, it could demotivate him. He may also have a strong case to take to the CCMA for unfair promotional practices. And if you use a fixed-term contract worker, he could take you for unfair dismissal. Don't just put a clause in your contract saying he mustn't expect you to hire him permanently. Make sure he knows and understand this too!
Tip#3: How to pay acting employees
If Brian has more responsibility in the acting role than his old position, pay him in line with it. But, make it clear the adjustment is temporary and not a promotion. Put it in your contact that you'll pay him an acting allowance. Make it clear the increase and promotion isn't permanent.

Worried about making mistakes in your employment contracts?
Wonder if there are some extra clauses you could include that might protect you more in the future? Want to change an employee's contract but don't know how to proceed? 


Tip#4: Manage the employee's performance closely
During the acting period, manage the employee's performance closely. This'll make sure:
  • You can objectively identify and make Brian aware of any weak areas of in his performance. This'll stop him having the false impression his performance is up to standard.

Ongoing performance appraisal of the acting employee will ultimately allow you to:
  • Appoint him on the basis of a thorough performance assessment: or
  • Turn down his application. You can base this on solid objective evidence that his performance doesn't merit the promotion.
Tip#5: What to do if you don't give the acting employee the permanent job
If Sally doesn't come back, advertise the position internally so Brian has the chance to apply. If you don't give him the promotion, arrange for him to return to his old job at his old salary.
Tip#6: Don't delay recruiting for the permanent job
Don't rush hiring a new customer services manager. You need make sure you hire the right person, but stall the process. This is because you might give Brian the false impression that the job is now his. This is especially risky if you haven't formally criticised his work performance, or have made comments in passing about his future in this position while he's in the position.
Brian would have a strong case that he's been in the position for months, doing the work without you pointing out faults and you should legally give him the position. Putting aside the danger of damaging employee relations, there's a chance of unfair promotional practice or unfair discrimination dispute that he could bring against you. As in tip #2.
So make sure you cover your bases when it comes to acting employees. 

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