IIR by tyndale



                           LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Origin of the law governing the employment relationship

The employer-employee relationship has been evident since the earliest
societies. In Ancient Rome the vineyard owner paid people to harvest his
grapes. In medieval England, the innkeeper paid someone to sweep the inn.
Law is the mechanism used to regulate employment relationships. The law of
Ancient Rome has influenced nearly all our modern systems of law. Roman
law was the foundation of the law developed in Holland in the 15th and 16th
Centuries (called Roman-Dutch law), which was transported to the Cape
Colony with Van Riebeck in 1652. This law is known as the common law in
South Africa and deals with many legal issues. Within the common law, the
law of contract emerges as a distinct area of law regulating the rights and
duties of the parties entering into contracts, such as the purchase of a cow,
the renting of a field, etc. The relationship between an employer and an
employee is also governed by the common law of contract. The employer
contracts with the employee to hire the employee’s labour or services in return
for remuneration.

With industrialisation in the 18th Century, large-scale employment became
necessary for industry, manufacturing, mining, etc. and although the common
law of contract provided the legal framework for employment contracts, it
proved inadequate to regulate modern employment law. Consequently,
lawmakers – the legislature, has stepped in and passed laws, called Acts of
Parliament or statutes, specifically designed to regulate employment and
labour relations. The statutory labour laws in South Africa operate alongside
the common law to define the rights and duties of employers and employees.

The State as Employer

Before 1990, government policy was strongly opposed to extending labour
rights to employees of the state. During 1993, public service trade unions won
basic labour rights for public servants and teachers. Legislation, such as the
Public Services Labour Relations Act, was promulgated to deal specifically
with the management of labour rights, collective bargaining and the resolution
of disputes within the public service; Public service bargaining councils were

The way in which public service employees and their employment
relationships with the state was separate and distinct from the approach
adopted in the private sector became a bone of contention in some circles
leading to concerted efforts by organised labour to promote a single system of
statutory regulation for all employees. Prior to the promulgation of the new
1995 LRA, there had been much academic debate around the wisdom of
lumping public service employees together with employees in the private
sector under one piece of umbrella legislation. One cogent reason put forward
to justify the separation of legislative control was the fact that the public
service, unlike private sector employers did not have a profit margin to be
massaged during wage negotiations because funding remained in the hands
of the fiscus. Irrespective of the merits of the debate, however, the
promulgation of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 ended the distinction
between persons employed in the public service and those employed in the
private sector by bringing all employees, with three exceptions, under the
ambit of a single piece of legislation. The exceptions for purposes of national
security concern soldiers and spies – members of the National Defence
Force, the National Intelligence Agency and the South African Secret Service
are excluded from the application of the Labour Relations Act and other
relevant legislation.

The Constitution as the Supreme Statutory Law in South Africa

The Constitution (Act 108 of 1996) has had far reaching consequences for all
areas of law because, as the supreme law of the land, the Bill of Rights
entrenches fundamental rights for citizens. Provision is made for the
protection of these rights by permitting citizens to challenge legislation or
actions by the State or others, which infringe those rights. The Bill of Rights in
Chapter 2 of the Constitution provides several provisions relevant to the
employer-employee relationship, such as protection against forced labour, the
prohibition of exploitation of child labour, the prohibition of unfair
discrimination, promotion of the right to pursue a livelihood and the right to
safe working conditions. The most important section relating to labour
relations is section 23, which provides that everyone has the right to fair
labour practices. Thus both employees and prospective employees, such as
job applicants, have a constitutional right to fair labour practices. The State as
employer has to recognise and protect these employment rights for all
persons employed by the State. The State includes central as well as
provincial authorities.

Specific Labour Legislation

In accordance with the rights entrenched in the Constitution, other more
specific pieces of legislation or statutes have been enacted to spell out the
legal rights and duties of employees and employers in respect of the
employment relationship. These statutes specifically cover the State, as
employer. These statues include the following:

   o   The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA)
   o   The Employment Equity Act (EEA)
   o   The Skills Development Act (SDA)
   o   Unemployment Insurance Act (UIA)
   o   The Labour Relations Act (LRA)
The Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (as amended)

The purpose of the LRA is to advance economic development, social justice,
labour peace and the democratisation of the workplace by promoting
collective bargaining, employee participation and the effective resolution of
labour disputes. The LRA created the machinery for statutory dispute
resolution – the CCMA, bargaining councils, the Labour Court and Labour
Appeal Court. CCMA commissioners and council panellists are appointed on
a full or part-time basis to conduct dispute resolution by means, primarily, of
conciliation and arbitration of labour disputes. The LRA has codified the law
developed over more than a decade in the erstwhile Industrial Court to govern
alleged unfair dismissal and labour practice disputes.

Important sections of the LRA

Section 185 - the LRA echo’s the constitutional imperative by reinforcing the
right of every employee not to be unfairly dismissed and not to be subjected to
unfair labour practices.

Section 186 – explains the different meaning to be attributed to the term
“dismissal” and “unfair labour practice”.

Section 187 – provides that dismissal under certain identified circumstances
will be automatically unfair. In other words, once such a dismissal is proved,
the employer will not be able to justify the dismissal on any grounds.

Section 188 – alerts employer’s to the fact that dismissals, which are not
automatically unfair, will still be regarded as unf air unless the employer can
prove that the dismissal was both substantively and procedurally fair. The
LRA places the onus or burden of proof on the employer. A dismissal will be
substantively unfair (i.e. the reason for dismissal will be considered unfair) if
the employer cannot prove that the dismissal was based on a fair reason
related to the employee’s conduct, capacity or the employer’s operational
requirements. A dismissal will be procedurally unfair unless the employer can
prove that the dismissal was effected according to a fair procedure.
Employers are provided with more detailed guidance on substantive and
procedural fairness by a reference in the section to Schedule 8 of the LRA.

Section 191 – provides employees with the applicable avenues, time limits
and regulations should they elect to challenge a dismissal or an unfair labour
practice using the statutory machinery created for labour dispute resolution.

Section 192 – provides that in statutory dismissal dispute resolution, the
employee bears the onus or burden to prove the dismissal and the employer,
thereafter, bears the onus to prove that the dismissal was substantively and
procedurally fair.
Schedule 8 of the LRA - Code of Good Practice: Dismissal

The LRA provides employers with clear guidelines in Schedule 8 of how to
manage discipline (misconduct) and incapacity (poor performance, illness or
injury) in the workplace. Schedule 8 forms the most important statutory
framework within which employers can ensure fair disciplinary procedures
including dismissal of an employee.

Employers need to familiarise themselves with the guidelines set out in
Schedule 8 and to develop disciplinary codes and procedures that align with
the Schedule. We will now look at the most important guidelines in Schedule
8. There are 11 Articles in the Schedule.

1. Introduction

The Code of Good Practice (Code) informs us that it is of necessity, general in
nature, and deviation from its guidelines may be justified in the unique
circumstances of each particular case. The Code is not a substitute for an
employer’s own disciplinary code and the guidelines are always subservient to
different guidelines provided in collective agreements. The Code’s purpose is
to protect employees from unfair arbitrary action by employers and to protect
an employer’s right to expect satisfactory conduct and performance from its
employees so as to run a business enterprise efficiently and effectively.

2. Fair reasons for dismissal

The Code reiterates that a dismissal will be automatically unfair if it occurs for
one of the reasons listed in s187 of the LRA and that it will otherwise be unfair
unless it is for a substantively fair reason related to the employee’s conduct,
capacity or the employer’s operational requirements and effected by means of
a fair procedure.

3. Disciplinary measures short of dismissal

Here the Code provides employers with guidance on what is required in the
design and implementation of a fair Disciplinary Code and Procedure. It is
incumbent on all employers to develop and communicate rules, policies or
standards of conduct in the workplace to their employees, as well as the
penalties or sanction likely to be imposed for breach of the rules. The content
and level of formality of such rules is dependant on the nature and size of
each employer.

Disciplinary Codes and Procedures should focus on corrective or progressive
discipline in the workplace. A system of graduated disciplinary measures,
such as counselling or warnings should be adopted to correct unacceptable
employee conduct. These measures may be informal or formal depending on
the nature and seriousness of the employee’s transgression. Repeated
misconduct can be visited with a final warning. Dismissal as a penalty for
misconduct should be reserved for the most serious offences or repetition of
misconduct while a final warning is applicable.
It is generally inappropriate to dismiss an employee for a first offence unless
the misconduct is so serious it renders the continuation of employment
intolerable. The code provides examples of such serious misconduct
including, gross dishonesty, wilful damage to the employer’s property, wilful
endangering the safety of others, physical assault and gross insubordination.
Before imposing dismissal as a penalty for serious misconduct or repeated
offences, the employer should consider the personal circumstances of the
employee, length of service and disciplinary record, the nature of the job and
the circumstances of the infringement itself. The penalty of dismissal must be
applied consistently, in the sense that past offenders have also been
dismissed and that joint offenders receive the same penalty.

4. Fair procedure

The Code has set out guidelines for a fair procedure in effecting a dismissal.
There ought to be an investigation into the alleged offence, and although a
formal enquiry need not be held, the employee must be given an opportunity
to state his case. For this to be fair, the employee must know and understand
the charges against him, must have reasonable time to prepare, must be
allowed assistance of a trade union representative or co-employee and the
employer should communicate its decision to the employee, preferably in
writing, with brief reasons for the dismissal.

If a trade union representative, such as a shop steward, is to be disciplined,
the employer must notify and consult with the trade union. Any employee who
is dismissed should be advised of his or her rights to refer a dispute to the
CCMA or a council. An employer may only dispense with these procedural
guidelines in exceptional circumstances.

5. Disciplinary records

Employers should keep proper records on disciplinary matters, penalties and
actions taken for each employee.

6. Dismissal and industrial action

Provides guidelines for dismissal arising from strike and lockout activity.

7. Guidelines in cases of dismissal for misconduct

This is the most important Article of the Code in prescribing the detailed
requirements for substantive fairness (i.e. fair reason) in a dismissal for

A person considering the fairness of a dismissal for misconduct must consider
the following:

       (a) whether or not the employee contravened a rule or standard
           regulating conduct in, or of relevance to, the workplace; and
      (b) if a rule or standard was contravened, whether or not-
               (i) the rule was a valid or reasonable rule or standard;
               (ii) the employee was aware, or could reasonably be expected
                     to have been aware, of the rule or standard;
               (iii) the rule or standard has been consistently applied by the
                     employer; and
               (iv) dismissal was an appropriate sanction for the contravention
                     of the rule or standard.

8. Probation

The 2002 amendments to the LRA have developed a much more detailed set
of guidelines around the hiring, managing and dismissal of probationary

9. Guidelines in dismissal for poor work performance

Employers frequently have difficulty in distinguishing acts of misconduct from
poor work performance. Although a very thin dividing line often blurs the
distinction, the distinction is important because the Code provides different
procedures in dealing with misconduct as opposed to incapacity. It should be
remembered that an employee who “won’t” perform satisfactorily is guilty of
misconduct and should be disciplined, whereas an employee who “can’t”
perform satisfactorily is “guilty” of incapacity and must be “performance
managed” rather than disciplined.

The requirements outlined for a substantively fair dismissal resulting from
incapacity in the sense of poor performance is to establish the following:

      (a) Did the employee fail to meet the required performance standard;
      (b) If the employee did not meet the required performance standard,
          whether or not -
              (i)   the employee was aware or could reasonably be
                    expected to be aware of the required performance
              (ii)  the employee was given a fair opportunity to meet the
                    required performance standard; and
              (iii) dismissal was an appropriate sanction for not meeting the
                    required performance standard.

10. Incapacity: Ill health or injury

This article sets out the requirements for managing incapacity res ulting from
an employee’s ill health or injury. Again employers need to be alert to the fact
that some types of misconduct, such as, being under the influence of alcohol
or drugs while on duty, sleeping on duty, late coming or excessive
absenteeism may have a basis in ill health, alcoholism or drug addition and
the offence may have to be managed in terms of the incapacity guidelines
rather than the misconduct guidelines.
11. Guidelines in cases of dismissal arising from ill health or injury

This article provides guidance on the circumstances under which dismissal
would be fair.

                  Public Service Legislation & Standards

The Public Service Act governs the appointment and employment of the vast
majority of public servants. Other pieces of sectoral legislation have been
promulgated to regulate the employment of certain specific categories of
public service employees, such as educators and the police.

Bargaining Council Constitutions

Likewise, most employees in the public service fall within the jurisdiction of the
Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) and their
employment is subject to the Constitution of the PSCBC and ancillary Codes
of Conduct, rules and agreements. There are separate sectoral bargaining
councils for Education and Safety and Security, having their own
constitutions, rules and regulations

Council Collective Agreements

Various collective agreements within the Public Service Co-ordinating
Bargaining Council have obtained the status of subordinate legislation as
Resolutions. The more important Resolutions impacting on the employment
relationship will be fully covered below.

                          WORKPLACE DISCIPLINE

No State Department or governmental authority, irrespective of its size, can
succeed if it cannot manage discipline in the workplace. All State employers
need to have rules, policies or standards of conduct in place to provide
employees with a framework within which they must conduct themselves and
behave at work or face disciplinary action. In a perfect world, all employers
will have a clear and fair written disciplinary code setting out the workplace
rules and the potential penalties for breaking those rules. This code should
ideally not be unilaterally drawn up and imposed by the State as employer but
should arise out of joint consultation and consensus-seeking between the
employer and the employees, usually represented by a trade union or other
elected representatives. Furthermore, the code should reflect the statutory
guidelines for managing misconduct in the workplace. Employers have a right
and a duty to maintain discipline in the workplace. Employees provide their
labour or services in return for remuneration.

1. Purpose & Principles of the Code

      The purpose of the Code is to promote mutual respect between
       employees and between employees and employers.
      The Code is designed to avert and correct unacceptable conduct.
      The Code is designed to ensure that managers and employees have
       easy access to the Code and share a common understanding of
       misconduct and discipline.
      The Code’s purpose is to prevent arbitrary or discriminatory actions by
       managers toward employees.
      Discipline is not punitive but corrective. It is designed to correct
       unacceptable conduct not to punish wrongdoers. See 2. Principles,
       Item 2.
      Discipline must be applied in a prompt, fair, consistent and progressive
      Discipline is a management function.
      Regulation 2 of 1999 requires that any Disciplinary Code & Procedure
       must be in writing.
      If an employee commits misconduct that is also a criminal offence, the
       criminal procedure and the disciplinary procedure continue as two
       separate and distinct procedures. The one does not impact on the
      The Code and Procedures are guidelines and may be departed from in
       appropriate circumstances.
      As far as possible, disciplinary procedures shall take place at the
       workplace and be understandable to all employees.
      Public servants have a right to appeal against a disciplinary sanction,
       which they regard as unfair.
      Resolution 2 of 1999 (as amended) only applies to employers and
       employees falling within the registered scope of the Public Service Co-
       ordinating Bargaining Council.
      Resolution 2 of 1999 incorporates the Code of Good Practice in
       Schedule 8 of the LRA, which, as far as it relates to discipline,
       constitutes part of Resolution 2 of 1999.
      The list of (mis)conduct in Annexure A is not exhaustive. Management
       may discipline an employee for conduct not mentioned in Annexure A,
       if the employee knew or ought to have known that the conduct was
       unacceptable or subject to disciplinary action.
      To ensure uniformity of disciplinary procedures across the public
       service, a disciplinary code concluded by a sectoral council must be
       approved by the PSCBC.
      In deciding an appropriate penalty for misconduct, managers must
       have regard to, among other things, the actual or potential impact of
       the misconduct on the work of the public service, the employee’s co-
       workers and the public.
       The nature of an employee’s work and responsibilities must be taken
        into account in deciding how serious the misconduct is that the
        employee committed.
       Disciplinary proceedings do not replace or seek to imitate court
        proceedings – see 2. Principles, Item 2.7.

2. Offences & Sanctions

Annexure A sets out the types of conduct which constitute disciplinary
offences. The list is not exhaustive, however, and offences may arise out of
breaches of employment contracts or a Code of Conduct applicable to the

The Code in Resolution 2 (1999) and Resolution 1 (2003) has both informal
as well as formal sanctions, which can be imposed on employees for
misconduct. Informal discipline is often judged to be more effective than
formal measures. Informal discipline, such as corrective counselling,
reprimands and verbal warnings should, however, be recorded in case the
employee’s conduct does not improve and more formal measures need to be
applied. Some sort of enquiry into the alleged misconduct should precede
formal disciplinary sanctions short of dismissal. Unfair disciplinary sanctions
may be challenged as unfair labour practices and employers should note the
legal restrictions on certain sanctions – such as unpaid suspension without
the employee’s written agreement would be contrary to section 23 of the
BCEA. Dismissal is not usually appropriate for a first offence unless the
offence is very serious. Dismissal should be reserved for instances of serious
misconduct or repeated misconduct, where less severe sanctions have not
corrected the misconduct.

General Warnings or policy statements

State employers often issue general warnings or policy statements to alert
employees that the employer intends taking action against certain forms of
misconduct. For example, if it comes to management’s attention that some
employees have inappropriate or pornographic pictures on their office walls,
which may be offensive, it may warn employees to remove such material or
face disciplinary action. This is not a disciplinary warning but communication
of a rule.

3. Procedures: Disciplinary Actions

(a) Informal discipline

       Corrective Counselling represents the first stage of disciplinary action
        – informally given to individual employees for specific acts of less
        serious misconduct, such as late-coming, poor time keeping,
        inappropriate dress, using bad language, etc. The manager must alert
        the employee to the misconduct, permit the employee to provide an
        explanation and try to ascertain the reason for the misconduct. The
        manager should then get the employee to agree on a plan of action to
       rectify the problem, take steps to implement the plan and monitor
       compliance by the employee.

      Verbal warnings are “friendly” reminders that if the employee
       continues with the misconduct, more serious disciplinary action will
       follow. The purpose of the warning is to remind the employee of the
       rule and to correct, not punish, the employee. Although verbal, the
       employer should keep a proper record of the warning for future

(b) Formal discipline

(i) Written warnings

Written warnings are more formal than a verbal warning. Contrary to popular
belief, there are no laws or statutes that prescribe the number of written
warnings that must be imposed before an employee is dismissed. By putting
the warning in writing, using the format in Annexure B, the employer has proof
that it was given.

   o It is appropriate for the employee to acknowledge the warning by
     signing for receipt of it, which does not mean an acknowledgement of
     guilt. If the employee refuses to sign, the warning is still valid and the
     manager must ensure a witness is present to sign confirming that the
     warning was given but that the employee refused to sign for it.
   o Before imposing a written warning, the employer should hold an
     enquiry or, at least, give the employee an opportunity to explain or
     defend the misconduct, be represented or assisted by a co-employee
     or shop steward, question his accuser and call witnesses, if necessary.
   o Written warnings should be recorded in the employee’s personal record
     and are valid for 6 months. Once a written warning has expired, it is n o
     longer relevant where the employee commits the same or similar
     offence and must be removed from the employee’s personal file and
   o A written warning for abuse of the company’s fax machine would not
     normally be relevant if the employee is disciplined for late-coming
     within the time period of the first warning, except to indicate a general
     disregard for the employer’s rules.
   o The employee can challenge a written warning by referring an unfair
     labour practice dispute to the appropriate bargaining council.

(ii) Final Written Warnings (FWW)

   o This is the last written warning the employer gives to the employee to
     correct persistent, repeated misconduct or to correct more serious
     misconduct, before the employee may be dismissed for misconduct.
   o It should not be issued lightly or prematurely. Managers who issue
     such warnings and then relent, if the misconduct continues by issuing
     another Final Written Warning, instead of dismissal, lose credibility.
       Employees will suspect that a Final Written Warning carries little
       authority and discipline becomes less effective.
   o   A FWW, using the format in Annexure C, must be given to the
       employee who should sign for receipt of the FWW, but if the employee
       refuses to sign, a witness must sign confirming that the warning was
       given to the employee.
   o   Although a formal enquiry need not necessarily be held before
       imposing a FWW, it is essential that the employee understands the
       nature of the alleged misconduct and is given an opportunity to defend
   o   A Final Written Warning should be for a specific offence and not
       general. Some employer’s impose a type of FWW that warns the
       employee that should they make themselves guilty of any other
       (unrelated) misconduct, they potentially face dismissal. Such general
       FWW’s are discouraged and may not stand up to scrutiny at the
   o   FWW’s remain in force for six months. Once they expire, the employee
       cannot be dismissed for committing the same offence. On its expiry,
       the FWW must be removed from the employee’s personal file and
   o   If an employee is on a current FWW for an offence and commits the
       same or very similar offence again, the employer cannot simply dismiss
       the employee but must hold a proper enquiry first to determine the
       employee’s guilt and the appropriateness of dismissal as a sanction.
   o   FWW’s can be challenged as an unfair labour practice.

3. Serious Misconduct

Manager must conduct a formal disciplinary enquiry.

The Resolution only mentions the following possible sanctions for serious

   (a) Suspension

   o Suspension refers to the situation where an employee is not permitted
     to be at the workplace for a stipulated period of time and may be paid
     suspension or unpaid suspension.
   o Employers should distinguish between precautionary suspension (or
     transfer) as an operational measure and suspension as a punitive
   o A precautionary suspension (or transfer) may be validly used when an
     allegation of alleged misconduct has been raised and an investigation
     needs to be conducted. If the accused employee remains at the
     workplace, it may hamper the investigation; intimidate potential
     witnesses or permit tampering with incriminating evidence.
   o If the employer suspends the employee for the duration of the
     investigation until the disciplinary enquiry is held the suspension must
    be with pay and a disciplinary enquiry must be held within 1 month of
    the suspension.
o   It is important, however, that an employee suspended, pending an
    enquiry, is permitted access to his union or other representative,
    witnesses and relevant documentary or other evidence so that the
    employee can prepare a defence.
o   A precautionary suspension may also be appropriate where tensions
    are running high and the employee’s presence at the workplace could
    aggravate a sensitive situation.
o   Punitive Suspension i.e. where it is used as a sanction or punishment
    is permissible for serious misconduct but ought to be suspension with
    pay because unpaid suspension is contrary to section 24 of the Basic
    Conditions of Employment Act unless the employee consents in
o   If an employee, who is found guilty of misconduct and is facing
    dismissal, agrees to accept unpaid suspension for a period of time
    rather than being dismissed, the employer must capture this in writing
    and the employee must sign acceptance of the sanction.
o   Managers should be encouraged to consider unpaid suspension for
    serious misconduct in cases where dismissal may not be appropriate
    for one or other reason.

(b) Demotion

o To be demoted means to be reduced to a lower rank or status (with or
  without a reduction in remuneration) and involves a variation or
  amendment to the employee’s contract of employment.
o At common law and under the BCEA a demotion raises legal difficulties
  because an employer may not unilaterally alter the terms of an
  employee’s contract of employment and may not reduce the
  employee’s wage or status without the employee’s agreement.
o Like punitive suspension, it may be used as an alternative sanction to
  dismissal in cases of serious misconduct but with the written consent of
  the employee.
o It is important that demotion or suspension is a reasonable alternative
  to dismissal and the employee is not forced into making an unfair
o Demotion may also be appropriate where an employee is promoted or
  placed at a level where they are unable to perform to required
  standards but again the employee must consent to the demotion.
o Managers are encouraged to consider demotion for serious misconduct
  in cases where dismissal may not be appropriate for one or other

(c) Dismissal

o This is the most severe sanction and should only be considered in
  cases of very serious misconduct or repeated misconduct where less
  severe penalties have not had the desired effect of correcting the
  employee’s misconduct.
   o Dismissal in employment law is the equivalent of the death sentence as
     a criminal penalty and should not be imposed lightly or arbitrarily.
   o Dismissal may be on notice or may be summary, i.e. where no notice is
     given or no payment in lieu of notice made.
   o Fair dismissal must be for a fair reason related to proven misconduct
     and effected by means of a fair procedure.
   o A proper disciplinary enquiry must be held prior to imposing dismissal
     as a sanction.
   o Dismissal may be challenged as procedurally and/or substantively
     unfair at a bargaining council.


             o   An employer must be able to justify a fair reason
                 for imposing any disciplinary sanction short of
                 dismissal and must follow a fair procedure before
                 imposing the sanction.
             o   An employee is entitled to take any form of
                 disciplinary sanction to the CCMA or a bargaining
                 council as an alleged unfair labour practice (ULP).
             o   The employer bears the onus or burden of proof in
                 establishing on a balance of probability that an
                 employee is guilty of the offence.
             o   If an employee is demoted or subjected to other
                 disciplinary sanctions short of dismissal and as a
                 result resigns, the employee may refer a dispute
                 alleging constructive dismissal – i.e. alleging that
                 the employer made continued employment
                 intolerable leaving the employee with no other
                 option but to resign.


State employers and HR Managers, in particular, need to know the statutory
requirements for dismissing an employee by means of a fair procedure. If
managers have a good reason to dismiss an employee for serious or
repeated misconduct, they can nevertheless, be found to have dismissed the
employee unfairly because they did not follow a fair procedure in effecting the
dismissal. If the dismissal is only unfair because the employer did not follow a
fair procedure the employer may be ordered at arbitration to pay
compensation to the dismissed employee and to pay an arbitration fee to a
bargaining council,.

Pre-enquiry procedural fairness checklist:

Conduct investigation into alleged misconduct
      The employer must ensure that alleged misconduct, i.e. breaches of
       Schedule A or other alleged conduct constituting grounds for
       disciplinary action are conducted.
      It may be necessary and appropriate for the alleged offender to be
       suspended (with pay) during the period of the investigation if the
       accused employee may be in a position to compromise the
      It is during the investigation that oral evidence is ascertained, i.e. by
       taking statements from the alleged offender and all other relevant
       witnesses, securing documentary evidence and any other relevant real
      The purpose of the investigation is to discover whether the alleged
       misconduct took place, the seriousness or otherwise of the alleged
       misconduct and what proof of the alleged misconduct exists.

Appoint initiator

      Where the investigation reveals that on the face of it, serious
       misconduct has been committed, the employer should initiate
       disciplinary steps against the alleged offender.
      The employer appoints an employee, usually the manager or direct
       supervisor of the alleged offender, to initiate disciplinary proceedings.
       The initiator may also, but not necessarily, have conducted the initial

Drawing up the charges

      The initiator, using Schedule A, should draw up the charges in as
       specific terms as possible, identifying the nature of the misconduct and,
       where appropriate, the date, time and place of the alleged offence/s.
      It is important that the charges are carefully drawn up so that the
       accused employee is left in no doubt as to the nature of the misconduct
       which he has allegedly committed so that he can defend himself
       against the charges.

Notifying the accused employee

      Notification serves a dual purpose – it sets out the charges brought
       against the accused employee and it provides the accused employee
       with the date, time and venue of the disciplinary enquiry as well the
       employee rights which the accused employee is entitled to exercise at
       the enquiry.

Note: the employer must permit the accused employee at least five working
days notice of the enquiry and is obliged to hold the enquiry within ten working
days of having notified the accused employee of the charges and disciplinary
For example:

             The alleged misconduct takes place on 20 March. An investigation is
             conducted and completed by Friday 30 March. The charges are drawn
             up on Monday, 2 April and notice of a disciplinary enquiry is prepared.
             The notice is served on the alleged offender on Tuesday, 3 April. The
             date scheduled for the disciplinary enquiry must be any date between
             Wednesday, 10 April (the minimum of 5 working days’ notice to the
             alleged offender) and Wednesday, 17 April (to be within the required
             10 working days of serving the notice).

      Notification must inform the accused employee of his employee rights:
                   to defend himself,
                   to the services of an interpreter,
                   to be represented at the enquiry,
                   to question the employer’s witnesses and
                   to bring witnesses in his defence.


     In accordance with Schedule 8 of the LRA, the accused employee is
      entitled to be represented by a fellow employee (from the same
      department or institution, but excluding a full-time shop steward) or a
      representative of a recognised trade union (the LRA does not speak of
      a recognised trade union but of a registered trade union; in this context
      recognised trade union means a union admitted to the PSCBC or a
      union enjoying organisational rights with respect to that department or
      institution only).
    Neither party is entitled to legal representation unless the accused
      employee is a legal practitioner or the employee appointed by the
      employer as initiator and who is the direct supervisor of the accused
      employee, is a legal practitioner. (A legal practitioner is a person
      admitted to practice as an attorney or advocate in SA).
    The parties may be legally represented if the disciplinary enquiry has
      by agreement been converted into a pre-dismissal arbitration in terms
      of s188A of the LRA and both parties consent to legal representation.
Appointing the chair of the enquiry

      The employee appointed to chair the enquiry must be a neutral
       employee with preferably no prior knowledge or involvement with the
       alleged commission of the offence/s.
      The chair must be selected from a grade higher than the grade of the
       initiator, i.e. the employee appointed by the employer as its
       representative at the enquiry.

Conducting a fair disciplinary enquiry

Attendance of the accused employee
The employer must do whatever is reasonably possible to ensure the accused
employee’s attendance at the enquiry. It is necessary for procedural fairness
that the accused employee has an opportunity to face his accusers, question
them, state a case in his defence, call his own witnesses and participate fully
in the enquiry before a determination is made. If the accused employee has
been properly notified and without a valid reason elects not to attend the
enquiry, the chair may postpone the enquiry or, where necessary, the enquiry
may proceed in the employee’s absence. Equally, if the accused employee is
disruptive, rude or threatening during the enquiry, the chair can have him
removed and continue in his absence.

The Initiator – employer’s representative

The employee appointed by the employer to initiate the disciplinary action on
behalf of the employer is responsible for presenting the case against the
accused employee and must ensure that the evidence is presented to the
chair in an ordered and logical way. The initiator should:

      Make an opening statement to provide the chair with a brief overview of
       the employer’s case
      Place relevant documents and other real evidence before the chair.
       Documents should be collated into a bundle in chronological order and
       paginated for easy reference
      Call witnesses in a logical sequence and question them so that their
       oral evidence is presented clearly to the chair
      Question the accused employee and any witnesses brought by the
       accused employee
      Present a closing statement or argument, pointing out the probabilities
       of the employer’s case and any inconsistencies, admissions or
       discrepancies in the accused employee’s case
      Present aggravating circumstances
      Suggest an appropriate finding and penalty.

The chairperson

The chair is tasked with conducting the disciplinary enquiry in a fair and
unbiased manner. The chair must keep a record of the notice of the enquiry
and the enquiry proceedings. This is generally done by longhand but in
certain cases the chair may be assisted by a minute taker and/or make a
mechanical recording of the proceedings.

The chair should:

      Welcome the parties and permit every one to introduce themselves and
       explain their role at the enquiry.
      The chair is responsible for ensuring that both representatives have the
       required status to appear and represent the respective parties
      Check that the accused employee has been advised of his rights and
       been permitted to exercise them
      Explain the enquiry procedure to the accused employee and allow
      Read the charge/s to the accused employee and ask him to plead – to
       admit or deny guilt
      Permit the initiator and the accused employee or his representative to
       make brief opening statements
      Narrow the issues by establishing what is agreed and what is in dispute
      Accept any documentary or other evidence and establish whether the
       evidence is in dispute
      Because the employer bears the obligation to prove, on a balance of
       probability, that the accused employee is guilty of the offence, the
       initiator leads evidence by calling witnesses first
      Allow each witness to give their evidence-in-chief and be cross-
       questioned by the employee or his representative until all the
       employer’s witnesses have been questioned and all the documentary
       or other evidence presented
      Permit the accused employee and his witnesses to give evidence and
       be cross-questioned
      Give both the initiator and employee or his representative an
       opportunity to make closing statements or arguments
      The chair may ask questions of clarification of any person at any time
       during the enquiry

               Chair makes a decision on whether the accused
               employee is guilty of the charge/s and
               communicates the outcome to the initiator and
               the accused employee and his representative.

               If the chair finds the accused employee not
               guilty the chair informs the parties and
               terminates the enquiry.

Completion of enquiry by chair where employee found guilty: The chair must:

      Allow the initiator to present argument regarding the appropriate
       sanction, including aggravating factors or circumstances which justify a
       penalty of dismissal
      Allow the accused employee or his representative, to present argument
       for a less harsh penalty by presenting mitigating factors or
      Indicate to all concerned when they can expect the chairperson’s final
       decision on sanction and the manner in which it will be communicated.
       Note that the chair is required to communicate the final outcome within
       five working days after the conclusion of the disciplinary enquiry
      The chair must record the finding and sanction in writing, preferably
       with brief reasons and make it available to all concerned. The finding
       and sanction must be recorded on the employee’s personal file.
       If the sanction is dismissal or something short of dismissal, such as
        demotion, suspension, a written warning, etc., the chair must notify the
        accused employee or his representative of the right to appeal against
        the finding of guilt and/or the sanction
       At this point the chair becomes functus officio, i.e. has no further legal
        or other role to play.

        If the employee lodges an appeal against the finding and/or
        the sanction, the sanction imposed by the chair may not be
        implemented pending the outcome of the appeal

The appeal

       The employee may appeal by completing Annexure E and submitting it
        within five working days to his executing authority or to his manager
        who will forward the appeal to the appeal authority
       The appeal authority is either the employee’s executive authority or
        another person appointed by the executing authority who was
        uninvolved in the disciplinary enquiry and is in a grade higher than the
        chair of the original enquiry
       The appeal authority has a discretion to either decide the appeal on the
        basis of the written record and written grounds of appeal or by way of
        conducting an oral hearing but must finalise the appeal within 30 days
       The appeal authority may:

           o Uphold the appeal – i.e. find that the chair’s finding of guilt
             and/or the sanction imposed was incorrect; or
           o Reduce the sanction to a lesser penalty (i.e. confirm the guilty
             finding but find the penalty too harsh); or
           o Confirm the outcome, i.e. confirm the finding of guilt and the
             sanction imposed


           o Dismissal may only take effect when the appeal outcome is
             communicated. If an outcome is not forthcoming within the
             30 day period, any precautionary suspension is lifted
             automatically and the employee resumes duties while
             awaiting the appeal outcome
           o The employee is entitled to refer a dispute about a
             dismissal (or any lesser sanction) to the relevant bargaining
             council for conciliation and thereafter, arbitration or Labour
             Court adjudication

A dismissal must be both procedurally and substantively fair.

Substantive fairness relates to the reason for dismissal, which in terms of
s188 of the LRA may only be one of three possible reasons:

      A reason related to the conduct of the employee or
      a reason related to the capacity of the employee or
      a reason based on the employer’s operational requirements.

       Dismissal for any other reason would be unfair and may even be
                             automatically unfair.

Read Schedule 8 – The Code of Good Practice: Dismissal
Article 3(4), (5) & (6) sets out general principles regarding dismissal for
Article 7 sets out the Guidelines for substantive fairness in cases of
dismissal for misconduct.

General principles

   o Discipline should be corrective measures taken by the employer in a
     progressive way, with less severe penalties for minor offences.
     Dismissal is not normally appropriate for the commission of a first
     offence unless the offence is so serious that it makes continued
     employment intolerable or if it is a case of repeated misconduct despite
     a final warning.
   o Before imposing the penalty of dismissal the employer should consider
     the gravity or seriousness of the offence, the employee’s
     circumstances (including length of service, previous disciplinary record
     and personal circumstances), the nature of the job and the
     circumstances of the infringement itself.
   o The employer should apply the penalty of dismissal consistently, i.e. if
     several employees are found guilty of the same serious offence, the
     employer should not dismiss one and not others unless there are good
     reasons to make a distinction. Equally, if in the past the employer has
     never sanctioned certain misconduct with dismissal, the employer
     should not now dismiss an employee for that misconduct unless the
     employer has communicated its intention to take more severe action
     against future offenders.

Specific guidelines for substantive fairness

Article 7 provides that a person considering the fairness of a dismissal for
misconduct must consider the following:
      (a) whether or not the employee contravened a rule or standard
          regulating conduct in, or of relevance to, the workplace; and
      (b) if a rule or standard was contravened, whether or not-
               (i) the rule was a valid or reasonable rule or standard;
               (ii) the employee was aware, or could reasonably be expected
                     to have been aware, of the rule or standard;
               (iii) the rule or standard has been consistently applied by the
                     employer; and
               (iv) dismissal was an appropriate sanction for the contravention
                     of the rule or standard.

In other words, to meet the requirement of substantive fairness the employer
must prove:

                               The 5-point test
          the employer had a rule or policy that the employee breached
          the rule or policy was valid (fair) and reasonable
          the employee knew the rule or ought to have known the rule
          the employer treats all employees breaking that rule in the
           same way, i.e. imposes the same sanction
          in the circumstances, dismissal was a suitable sanction.

Interpretation of the 5 point substantive fairness test

   1. The employer is responsible for establishing on a balance of probability
      that the employee contravened a rule or standard of the workplace.
      The term balance of probability does not mean beyond reasonable
      doubt, which is the standard of proof required in criminal cases when
      the state is required to establish the guilt of a person charged with a
      criminal offence. Balance of probability means that of two versions, one
      version is more likely to be true or correct. It also means that where
      there is no direct evidence that the employee committed the offence
      but there is circumstantial evidence and that evidence leads to only
      one probable conclusion, that version is sufficient to establish guilt.

   2. The employer must demonstrate that there is a good reason or sound
      commercial rationale for having the rule; the rule must be based on a
      sound economic principle, e.g. rule against driving a State vehicle
      without permission – breach of rule leads to loss of insurance cover,
      reduces value of State asset, etc.

   3. The employer needs to keep a record of how, when and where the rule
      was communicated to the employee. The Schedule 8 Code accepts
      that some rules are so well known that all employees can be expected
      to know them, such as theft from the employer, assault of a co-
      employee, etc.
   4. The employer must apply the rule consistently. In other words, the
      employer must impose the same or similar sanction of dismissal to all
      its employees. In the past the employer must have dismissed
      employees for committing the same or very similar offence and if two or
      more employees committed an offence jointly and are equally guilty,
      the employer should dismiss all of them unless there are very good
      reasons to make a distinction between the employees’ responsibility or
      involvement in the commission of the offence.

   5. In deciding if dismissal is an appropriate sanction, the employer
      (chairperson of the enquiry) must consider the employee’s
      circumstances, including the following:

   o The gravity or seriousness of the offence
   o The circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence
   o The nature of the job – this takes cognisance of the nature and
     environment of the employer’s business – if a clerk falls asleep at his
     desk on Saturday morning from a late Friday night out, it is less serious
     than if the Sister in charge of patients in the Intensive Care Ward falls
     asleep during her night shift.
   o Mitigating and aggravating circumstances
   o The employee’s personal circumstances, including, length of service,
     previous disciplinary record, responsibilities for dependents, debts,
     employee’s age, etc.

                      LEARNINGS FROM CASE LAW

Importance of audi alteram partem rule

State employees have always been able to challenge administrative decisions
made without consultation and which have, or may have, an adverse effect on
the employees. Our highest court has repeatedly reminded the state that as
an employer it cannot impose unilateral decisions on state employees without
taking cognisance of the rules of natural justice. Before adverse decisions
such as transfer or demotion are implemented, the state is obliged to “hear
the other side” or follow the rule of audi alteram partem:

      Administrator, Transvaal & others v Traub & others 1999 (4) SA 731
      Administrator, Transvaal & others v Zenile & others 1999 (2) SA 21 (A)
      Fraser v Children’s Court, Pretoria North & others 1997 (2 SA 218 (T)

In the case of Nombungu & others v Transkei High Court (2004) 25 ILJ 1403
(TK) former Transkei police offices who had been absorbed into the national
integrated South African police services had been promoted in terms of the
Interim Promotion Policy. Despite occupying higher ranks, the police offices in
question were not remunerated in line with their promoted ranks. An
unsuccessful grievance found the police officers being demoted as a “salary
correction” was effected by their superiors. Review in court found their
demotion to have been unfair. On appeal by the Police Services, the court
emphasised the importance of the audi alteram partem principle and
castigated the Police Services for its high handed action but quashed the
unfair demotions on the basis of a technical point that the National
Commissioner of Police was not empowered to demote employees or reduce

Even though imposing disciplinary sanctions may be theoretically
distinguishable from making other administrative decisions, the principle of
audi alteram partem remains pre-eminent in ensuring procedural fairness. The
Public Service Disciplinary Code has deliberately incorporated the LRA’s
Code of Good Practice as a yardstick by which to measure procedural
fairness in addition to its own prescriptions of how to impose disciplinary
sanctions fairly.

In the private sector, two recent private arbitrations conducted under the
auspices of TOKISO, confirm the need for employers to hold enquiries prior to
dismissing employees whose conduct was treated as desertion. In both cases
the absent employees were being held in police custody and were dismissed
in their absence. The dismissals, although substantively justifiable, were
found to be procedurally unfair because the employers ought to have
conducted disciplinary enquiries on the employees’ eventual return in terms of
the LRA:

      Mofokeng and KSB Pumps (2003) 24 ILJ 1756 (BCA)
      NUMSA obo Magadla and AMT Services (Pty) Ltd (2003) 24 ILJ 1764

Desertion in the Public Service as an automatically dismissible offence is
more complicated because Public Service legislation frequently operates
alongside the LRA. In Hospersa & another v MEC for Health (2003) 24 ILJ
2320 (LC), the court tasked with reviewing an arbitration award, found itself
confronted with two different legislative approaches to desertion. Section
17(5)(a)(i) of the Public Service Act provides that where an employee absents
himself from duty without permission for one calendar month, the employee is
deemed to be discharged for misconduct, thus negating the need to hold any
sort of enquiry. This the court viewed as termination of employment by
operation of the law rather than a dismissal in the normal sense of the word.

The arbitrator had viewed the discharge as procedurally fair and provided no
relief to the applicant. The Labour Court, however, concluded that the PSA
section 17(5)(a) had to be interpreted purposefully because it was designed to
bring finality in situations where an employee had absented himself and his
whereabouts were unknown and there was uncertainty about whether or not
the employee would ever report for duty in the future. In this case the absent
employee’s whereabouts were not unknown. The employee had been
seconded to the trade union in terms of a PSCBC Collective Agreement
(Resolution 8 of 1998) two years earlier. There had been protracted
communication and dispute about when the employee should return from the
secondment. For this reason the court held that the employee had not
deserted in the sense provided for in s17(5)(a) of the PSA and that his
absence could not amount to a “deemed discharge”. The failure of the Health
Department to bring charges against the employee in terms of the Public
Service disciplinary code (including the prescriptions of procedural fairness in
the LRA) and hold an enquiry made the dismissal procedurally unfair.

In another case, Cassim v SA Police Service & others (2004) 25 ILJ 1424
(LC), the Labour Court used a technical loophole to reconcile the differing
requirements of fairness in the LRA and BCEA with provisions of the South
African Police Service Act (68 of 1995) and its associated Regulations. The
Area Commissioner suspended an employee without pay as a disciplinary
measure for misconduct. The employee challenged the sanction at the CCMA
unsuccessfully because s15 of the South African Police Service Act provided
for such suspension. On review, the award was set aside by the Labour Court
because it found that the arbitrator had not appreciated that the Regulations
govern the suspension and demotion of employees not the Act and that these
regulations must be interpreted restrictively because they deprive an
individual of his fundamental employment rights. Although the power to
suspend an employee can be validly delegated and exercised the power to
suspend emoluments cannot be delegated and was therefore invalid.

The attempt to marry requirements of procedural fairness as set out in the
LRA with differing prescriptions reached in collective agreements has led to
peculiar compromises. In the case of Highveld District Council v CCMA &
others (2003) 24 ILJ 517 (LAC) an engineer was dismissed for misconduct
after the employer, the Council, following the LRA’s Code of Good Practice,
held a procedurally fair disciplinary enquiry. The employee challenged the
dismissal because the Council had failed to follow certain procedural
requirements captured in the collective agreement. The CCMA arbitrator
found that procedural fairness had been sufficiently complied with and
pronounced the dismissal to have been procedurally fair.

The Labour Court, in reviewing the arbitrator’s award, disagreed and found
that because the Council had ignored certain minor procedural provisions,
which were peremptory in the collective agreement the dismissal was
procedurally unfair. The Council took the court’s decision on appeal to the
Labour Appeal Court. The LAC held that although the provisions of the
collective agreement were very important in determining procedural fairness,
they were not in themselves determinative. The court stated that a failure to
follow the provisions of the collective agreement to the letter does not
necessarily mean that a dismissal is procedurally unfair. Equally, the court
stated, that even if the Council had followed the prescriptions of the collective
agreement conscientiously, it would not have guaranteed procedural fairness.
The court fell back on the old compromise that procedural fairness must be
judged in each case by a consideration of fairness based on all the
circumstances and concluded that in the light of all the facts, the dismissal
had been procedurally fair, thus confirming the arbitrator’s original award.

To top