The first step is to hold a meeting (an informal affair) with the employee. You explain where the employee is falling short, what standard is not being met, and discuss the matter fully to see if the reason for the poor performance can be established.
It may be a domestic crisis that the employee has (pending divorce, sick child, financial problem, etc.) or it may even be a work related problem, such as a supervisor who is victimizing the employee, harassing the employee in some way, and so on.
The important thing is to establish to cause – if you don’t know the cause, you cannot treat the problem. Treating the symptoms is a useless exercise – the problem will not go away unless you treat the cause.
Whatever the cause, try to find a mutually acceptable way of dealing with it – it may be training that is required, it may be that you have to refer the employee to an outside body such as the Department of Social Welfare, a good divorce lawyer, and so on. Perhaps you will have to assist the employee financially, or help them obtain a loan from a financial institution, but it is vitally important that all the proceedings are recorded in detail.
These records will be required if you eventually have to dismiss the employee and the matter is taken up with the CCMA. You will have to prove that correct and fair procedures were followed, and you need written records to do this. Remember that in a case of unfair dismissal, the employee only has to prove that a dismissal took place. The employer must prove the fairness of the dismissal.
At the end of the counseling session, the employee must be warned of the consequences of failure to improve where such warning is appropriate.
Bear in mind that the aim of the counseling session is not to punish the employee, but to assist him/her to recognize and overcome the problem.
There is no rule of thumb regarding how many counseling sessions are required before dismissal, nor how much assistance or training must be given before dismissal, or demotion to a lower position which the employee can handle.
It will depend on many factors, such as length of service, how long has the employee been doing the job before he/she started screwing up, the nature of the job, the extent of the employee’s willingness to co-operate and help solve the problem, what effect the poor performance has had on the Company, and of course the nature of the poor performance itself.
For example, if it is a vital function that is not being done, then that is serious – immediate improvement is required.
In the counseling session, you must be specific – it is not acceptable to state that the employee is “not making the grade” or “is not doing the job properly.”
The specific problem area must be defined and discussed in detail. It is no good telling the employee to “pull his socks up” or “get his act together.”
Be specific about what improvement is required, what standard is required to be met, in what area and by when.
The counseling process is termed as “evaluation, instruction, training or guidance.”
Make sure that this is what you do.
If the matter comes to dismissal, then the Code of Good Practice on Dismissal must be applied, as well as your own procedures if any. You are obliged to consider whether the employee did in fact fail to meet a performance standard, if he or she could reasonably be expected to have been aware of the required standard, whether a fair opportunity was given to the employee to meet the required standard, and most importantly you must assess whether or not dismissal is an appropriate (and perhaps the only available) sanction under the circumstances of the case.
Written by Des Squire, Managing Member at Amsi and Associates
First published by SA Labour Guide