Working in accordance with rules and regulations may not always be a notion one is willing to adapt or willing to conform to, but the value of having rules and regulations within a workplace will unequivocally contribute to the success and sustainability of the company – the ultimate goal in any work environment.

In order to achieve the required outcome, a business should concentrate and focus on its internal rules and regulations. The rules and regulations within the business should be concise.

As a rule, it is easier to have a guideline when the need arise for internal rules and regulations. As a result, reference is made to Schedule 8 Code of Good Practice: Dismissals, a guideline on how to deal with misconduct, established to assist the Employers.

The Code clearly provides as follows:

“All employers should adopt disciplinary rules that establish the standard of conduct required of their employees. The form and content of disciplinary rules will obviously vary according to the size and nature of the employer’s business.

Employees cannot be disciplined for misconduct committed by them if they were unaware and totally oblivious to the fact that the particular misconduct committed by them was punishable and that it was a rule within the workplace that has been contravened. It is therefore imperative that the company implements a disciplinary code.

The content of the particular disciplinary codes of various employers will naturally differ. Schedule 8 Code of Good Practice: Dismissal states:

In general, a larger business will require a more formal approach to discipline. An employer’s rules must create certainty and consistency in the application of discipline. This requires that the standards of conduct are clear and made available to employees in a manner that is easily understood. Some rules or standards may be so well established and known that it is not necessary to communicate them.”

By formulating and implementing a disciplinary code requires attention to detail. It is critical to define the types of offences as this will ensure that the employee is aware of the nature of such transgressions as well as the consequences the employee will face should he/she contravene a rule within the workplace. Misconduct can be grouped into the following categories:

  • Serious;
  • Less serious; and
  • Minor

Sanctions that can be imposed can range from:

  • Verbal Warning;
  • Written Warning;
  • Final Written Warning;
  • Dismissal;

In some instances even:

  • Demotion;
  • Suspension.

Employers need to ensure that:

  • All employees are aware of the disciplinary code;
  • That the disciplinary code was communicated to all staff and that such communication is in a language that the employee understands. When dealing with an illiterate employee, the code should be explained to the particular employee in a manner that ensures that he/she understands such a code. It will also be advisable that a witness attends to signing that the code was explained to the employee;
  • That a copy of the code is readily available.

Additional to the indication on the disciplinary code of the nature of the transgression, the action that will be taken against an employee for such transgression should also be stipulated. Although certain misconduct may be subject to a disciplinary hearing from the onset, not all transgressions resort under the nature of serious offences. Transgressions should be categorised and be indicative of what action the employee can expect on the first, second and third offence. By doing this, an employer ensures that an employee is fully aware of the particular action implemented against him/her in the event that they should make themselves guilty of any of the listed offences.

The nature of the business of various employers differ and the transgression that might be considered minor for one employer could simultaneously be considered a serious offence for another – this principle naturally leads to a situation where a drastic sanction is implemented by a particular employer for a certain offence, whilst an employee may only be informally reprimanded for the very same offence at another employer.

By implementing a proper disciplinary code, employees can hardly plead ignorance in the event that action is taken against for misconduct committed.

Should an employee be dismissed due his/her actions in accordance with the relevant disciplinary codes, the employer will be possessed with a compelling case should the matter be referred and be heard at a bargaining council or the CCMA. Similarly, it will strengthen the case of an employer in a matter that has been referred under the auspices of an unfair disciplinary action.

Employers should be consistent in the execution of the disciplinary code, as consistency is essential in proving that the action taken was procedurally fair – the company is bound by the disciplinary code so implemented.

The function of a disciplinary code is to ensure the regulation of the standards within a company. The employer is required to ensure that the employee understands the rules set out within the business and the employee in turn should ensure that he/she adheres to the rules and standards set out by the employer.

Discipline in the workplace is an essential part of running a successful business. It should never be construed as a negative facet of the employment relationship, but rather an opportunity to work together to achieve a common goal. Disciplinary measures also provide the employer with the opportunity to assist the employee to rectify his/her behaviour to a standard acceptable to the business. As a result, it affords the employee the opportunity to render a more professional and acceptable service to the employer.

When dealing with discipline in the workplace (and more specifically the disciplinary code) the aim should be to provide employees with all the relevant information and to clearly communicate such information to them.

Douw G Breed is a director at Barnard Incorporated Attorneys

Barnard Incorporated is a firm of attorneys situated in Centurion, Pretoria.


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