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Dealing with the potential pitfalls of acting appointments. Your solutions!

by , 11 June 2015
Sometimes a key-position in your company can become vacant. This can be related to a switch in the organisational structure or because one of your most important people resigned.

While you're looking for a suitable candidate, you might need for the functions of the position to carry on without delay or break in continuity. This is called an acting appointment.

Here's what you may need to do in this case:

• Appoint an external person who isn't ideal for it, but could hold the fort temporarily. You can do this on a fixed-term contract basis; or
• Transfer a current employee into that position in an acting capacity. This gives you time to complete the job specification, job ad, and recruitment and selection process.

Keep in mind that you should let the acting employee know he can also apply for the permanent position. However, it is both unfair and dangerous to promise him you'll appoint him or create an expectation that you will.

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As a consequence, if you don't employ him into that position, you could demotivate him. He may also have a strong case to take you 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.

You have to make sure he knows and understand this too!

So what should you do with regard to acting positions?

If you decide not to keep him in that position, you must arrange for him to return to his old job at the old salary. Don't rush the process of recruitment and selection of the permanent applicant. You need to be sure you hire the right person.

You shouldn't postpone the process without any valid reasons since you may give the acting employee the false impression that the job is now his. And if you didn't formally criticise his work performance, or didn't make comments in passing about his future in this position, the chances for this to happen are big. This means that the acting employee will have strong grounds to argue he's been working for months in the job faultlessly and you should legally give him position.

And it's not only about damaged employee relations, he could also bring an unfair promotional practice or unfair discrimination dispute against you. This is why, during the acting period, you need to manage the employee's performance closely and expertly.

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During the acting period, manage the employee's performance closely

This'll make sure:

• You can objectively identify and make him aware of any weak areas 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.

Moreover, both you and the employee 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. You have to make sure you make changes to fit the position.

If you appoint an existing employee into the position, the contract should say:

Sample of acting appointment letter

Dear Mr Davis

This is to confirm that you have been appointed as Acting Manager with immediate effect. As agreed:

• This will be a temporary appointment lasting only until the position is filled.
• Once a permanent incumbent begins work you will be transferred back to your old position.
• While you are welcome to apply for the permanent position, your application will be considered equally with those of other candidates. You will not be afforded any special consideration based on the fact that you are acting in the position.
• Your performance will be closely monitored and if you do apply for the permanent position, you will be required to prove, by means of your past performance, that you are a worthy contender for the job.

Keep in mind that even if your performance is satisfactory, the company reserves the right to appoint another candidate on the grounds of that person's academic qualifications, experience, skills, industry connections or other criteria related to inherent requirements of the job.

Yours sincerely

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