Can I just get rid of this employee?

My bookkeeper is just not performing the way I'd like her to; can I fire her?
My IT Manager keeps arriving late and leaving early and I'm sure some of his 'appointments' out of the work are phony- can I get rid of him?

The answer to these questions, as 86% of employers who lose their cases in the CCMA will tell you, is NO- you can't just fire your employees (as tempting as it may be!). They'll also tell you it can be an expensive exercise to get it wrong. So what do you do?
Well you follow the correct procedures- here's a quick summary:
Generally when you're having problems with an employee, you're looking at one of two things- poor work performance or misconduct.

In terms of poor work performance, you are required to stick to the following procedures:

1. Counselling- you need to talk to the employee and determine exactly where the poor work performance lies and what it entails. You need to look at possible ways to help the employee remedy their lack of performance- additional training, mentoring etc.
2. Follow up- you need to set further counselling sessions to monitor the employee's progress (or lack of progress)- you should keep written records, signed by both parties detailing the first 2 steps.
3. If there is no or insufficient improvement you can move on to written warnings (usually 2 to 3) and finally a Final Written warning.
4. The final step in the process is a Disciplinary Hearing where an independent Chairperson will make a judgement as to whether the employee should be fired or if the employer needs to provide more training etc.

Misconduct is less rigid. Based on the severity of the misconduct, the employer can make a call as to where they will enter the process of discipline i.e. if it's a minor misconduct such as arriving at work late for the first time, the employer would merely give a verbal warning (misconduct counselling), however if the misconduct resulted in a breakdown in the trust relationship such as assault, theft etc the employer could skip all previous steps and go straight to a disciplinary hearing.

What is important to remember is that you ALWAYS have to hold a disciplinary hearing and that the hearing must be chaired by someone in authority who is not involved in the matter. More about Disciplinary Hearings next month…

Claire Stewart