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Your disciplinary code: What sanctions should you impose for individual acts of misconduct?

by , 19 May 2015
When it comes to disciplinary action, this must be substantively and procedurally fair. Note that dismissal without a valid fair reason or one that's not in compliance with a fair procedure is explicitly defined as an unfair labour practice in terms of the Labour Relations Act of 1995.

Moreover, procedural fairness is generally taken care of by the disciplinary procedure while the substantive aspects, i.e. the specific behaviour of employees, are the jurisdiction of the disciplinary code.


You should know that the majority of disciplinary codes establish a list of offences. These are usually divided into minor/moderate offences like lateness, horseplay, unauthorised absence, and serious offences such as stealing, falsifying company records, malicious damage to property etc. A grid system of penalties is then linked to offences.

Unilateral suspension of an employee would, however, constitute an unfair labour practice. Some serious offences may evoke a first penalty of a final written warning. Summary dismissal may be justified in cases such as gross negligence, dishonesty, refusal to work, extended absence without permission, intoxication, assault and insubordination.

When it comes to your enforcing your disciplinary code, remember that the list of offences above isn't necessarily exhaustive and the penalties quoted below must be regarded only as a guide.

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What sanctions should you impose for individual misconduct?

Keep in mind that the recommended disciplinary action as described here under are the harshest actions that may be taken against an offender and management should exercise discretion where necessary to ensure that an appropriate sanction is imposed. The sanction imposed will depend on the seriousness of the offence with particular reference to the project affected.

In addition to the gravity of the misconduct, the following factors will be considered:

•    Employee circumstances (including length of service, previous disciplinary record and personal circumstances); and
•    The nature of the job and the circumstances of the infringement itself. Unrelated offences won't be cumulative, any other offences may result in dismissal. Except in the cases of individual misconduct, which would constitute ground for dismissal or a suspension or demotion or the immediate imposition of a final warning.

All corrective counselling, written warning and suspensions must be recorded in the employee's personal file and will be removed on date of expiry. However, a non-punitive record will be kept for administrative and reference purposes.

Here's what all this means:

Corrective counselling: When we talk about misconduct, which isn't serious enough to merit a more serious sanction, the employees immediate superior must, where appropriate, counsel. I.e. advise (person) and recommend (course of action), the employer to correct unacceptable behaviour. The employer must keep a record and should advise the employee of the consequences, should any misconduct re-occur.

Verbal Warning: If, after counselling, your employee persists in certain unacceptable behaviour or if any conduct is regarded as sufficiently serious, the employee's Team Leader must issue a verbal warning, provided the misconduct does not warrant more serious action.

Written Warning: If, after a verbal warning, the employee persists in certain unacceptable behaviour or if any conduct is regarded as sufficiently serious, the employee's immediate manager must issue a written warning, provided the misconduct does not warrant more serious action.

The employee's manager will issue a written warning after a discussion at which the unacceptable behaviour has been pointed out to the employee and the reason why it's unacceptable, and an opportunity to respond has been given to the employee. The employee will be required to acknowledge receipt of the letter of warning and should he/she refuse to sign, then the signature of a witness to confirm that the warning letter was handed to the employee, should be obtained where reasonably possible.

Final Warning: A final written warning will be issued to an employee when there has been a further act of related misconduct while the employee has a valid written warning on record or in the case of any other misconduct which is individually, or cumulatively, regarded as sufficiently serious. The employee will be required to acknowledge receipt of the letter of warning and should he/she refuse to sign, then the signature of a witness to confirm that the warning letter was handed to the employee, should be obtained where reasonably possible.

Any further act of individual misconduct of a similar nature on the part of the employee during the validity period of the final written warning will place the ongoing employment of the employee in jeopardy. If an employee receives two final written warnings for unrelated offences, any next offence may warrant dismissal.

Suspension without pay, demotion or dismissal: Suspension without pay, demotion or dismissal are appropriate sanctions in the event of an employee being found guilty of a serious act of misconduct or in the event of the employee committing a further similar act of individual misconduct while a final warning is valid.

Suspension without pay, (salary) may not exceed a period of one month. In the event of the possibility of suspension without pay, demotion or a dismissal, a disciplinary enquiry must be conducted as soon as reasonably possible.

A demoted employee may be re- considered for promotional opportunities, which may arise in the business after 12 months, if he has achieved a clean disciplinary record in that period.


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