A Management Guide to Disciplinary Policy
It is management’s responsibility to maintain discipline within the workplace. The disciplinary policy must apply to and form part of the contract of employment of all employees up to a level determined by individual companies. SEIFSA understands that this arena of management can cause consternation for all parties, and may have legal repercussions. Thankfully, the SEIFSA Industrial Relations and Legal Services Division has the requisite expertise to advise and represent member and non-member companies in the intricacies of implementing company policies relating to Discipline in the work place.
The first area to be clarified should be Disciplinary warnings. Any warning issued should be kept in the personal file of the employee for the duration of the warning. Should the employee commit no further breach of the disciplinary code within that period, the warning will become null and void and should be removed from the employee’s personal file. Expired warnings should play no role in any subsequent disciplinary action.
The time periods relating to the expiry of warnings are generally as follows:
- Verbal warnings…………………. three months
- Written warnings………………… nine months
- Final written warnings……………. Twelve months
The above-mentioned time periods may vary from organisation to organisation, depending on the individual organisation’s disciplinary policy.
Relevant factors and circumstances should be taken into account in determining the appropriate disciplinary action. These includes length of service, previous offences, the period since the last offence, status and any mitigating circumstances.
Nature of disciplinary measures
There are four types of disciplinary measures which may be applied, namely:
- Verbal warning;
- Written warning;
- Final written warning; and
- Formal enquiry and dismissal.
All disciplinary warnings are cumulative in nature. An employee who is already in receipt of a verbal warning for a particular offence and who commits any other offence of a similar nature within the prescribed time period will be subject to the next step in the disciplinary procedure, i.e. written warning, final warning or dismissal, depending on the nature and severity of the second offence.
Level One: verbal warning
If the immediate supervisor is of the opinion that the behaviour or performance of an employee is unsatisfactory, but does not warrant a written warning, final written warning or dismissal, then a verbal warning will be given.
The verbal warning shall be given to the employee in the presence of a shop steward or employee representative and the reason for issuing the warning should be explained to the employee and representative. A record of the warning should be placed in the employee’s personal file. A verbal warning shall remain valid for three months.
Level Two: written warning
If, subsequent to issuing a verbal warning, the supervisor or manager is still not satisfied with the performance or behaviour of the employee, or if the employee commits another offence which requires a written warning, the supervisor and the immediate superior shall discuss the nature of the transgression, the corrective action and the disciplinary steps with the employee in the presence of a shop steward or employee representative and a management witness.
The supervisor must complete a Disciplinary Report Form. The employee and the shop steward or employee representative must sign the form to acknowledge receipt of the written warning, even though the employee may not necessarily agree with the disciplinary action applied. If the employee refuses to sign the warning, then the supervisor should merely note that fact on the form.
The disciplinary warning should be placed in the employee’s personal file and a copy of the warning should be given to the employee. This written warning shall remain valid for nine months from the date of issue.
Level three: final written warning
If, subsequent to issuing a written warning, the supervisor is still not satisfied with the performance or behaviour of the employee or if the employee commits another offence within the prescribed period of nine months or commits any offence which warrants a final written warning, then the same procedure as detailed in level two shall be followed – except that a final written warning shall be issued. The final written warning shall remain valid for 12 months from the date of issue.
The supervisor shall ensure that the employee and the shop steward or employee representative are made aware that should the employee commit a further offence within the 12-month period following the issuing of the final written warning, then that offence may result in dismissal, pending a final decision at a formal disciplinary enquiry.
Level four: formal disciplinary enquiry
If, subsequent to issuing a final written warning, the supervisor is still not satisfied with the performance or behaviour of the employee or if the employee commits a further offence within the prescribed 12-month period or commits any offence which may justify dismissal, then the supervisor shall request a formal disciplinary enquiry.
The supervisor shall complete the Disciplinary Report Form stating the grounds for the enquiry. The supervisor will report the matter to the Human Resources Manager and hand over the disciplinary report. In the absence of a Human Resources Manager in the department concerned, the supervisor may hand the disciplinary report to any Designated Manager.
The Manager shall inform the employee and the shop steward or employee representative in writing, by way of the Formal Disciplinary Enquiry Notification Form, of the following:
- The reason for the enquiry;
- The date, time and venue of the enquiry;
- The rights of the employee at the enquiry, namely:
- the right to timeous notification of the intention to convene the disciplinary enquiry and the grounds for enquiry;
- the right to be represented by a shop steward or employee representative;
- the right to translation, if required;
- the right to call and cross-examine witnesses;
- the right to a fair and proper hearing.
The employee shall be given 48 hours’ notice to appear before an independent Chairperson of the enquiry to conduct a formal disciplinary enquiry.
The enquiry is held in the presence of the employee, the shop steward or employee representative and the supervisor.
The independent Chairperson shall:
- Ensure that a record of the proceeding is kept;
- Ensure that the enquiry is conducted in a fair and proper manner;
- Give a decision on the matter, wherever possible, within two working days of the enquiry. The decision shall be recorded on the disciplinary report and a copy, signed by all parties, shall be made available to the employee and the shop steward or employee representative.
- Ensure that the employee and the shop steward or representative are made aware of the right of the employee to appeal against any disciplinary action so implemented.
Level Five: appeal hearing
Any employee disciplined in terms of this procedure, but not dismissed, may appeal, in writing, to the next level of management, i.e. to the more senior supervisor or Manager than the one who implemented the disciplinary action.
In terms of the disciplinary procedure, any employee shall have the right of appeal to the company Director or his duly nominated representative.
The grounds of appeal against dismissal or disciplinary action shall be submitted in writing to the Manager or Director concerned within three clear working days of the disciplinary action.
The Manager concerned shall, as soon as possible, but within three working days of receipt of the appeal application, appoint a Chairperson to conduct a formal appeal hearing. The appeal hearing shall be conducted along similar lines to the disciplinary enquiry. The Chairperson shall, wherever possible within one working day of the appeal hearing, give a decision which will be final.
The disciplinary procedure and the grievance procedures fulfil different functions. Therefore, employee grievances against disciplinary action taken in terms of the disciplinary procedure cannot be channelled through the grievance procedure. Employees who have any enquires regarding the content of this procedure should approach their immediate supervisors or any senior Manager for advice and assistance.
These are complicated procedures to remember, and if companies do not have a specialised Human Resources or Legal representative, the company might find itself on the wrong end of the law and open itself up to legal action. A simple call to the SEIFSA Industrial Relations & Legal Services Division – which has the relevant expertise and experience – can resolve this situation.