Counselling as a form of progressive discipline
Counselling as a form of progressive discipline in the workplace and its value is often overlooked. The Labour Relations Act (“LRA”) defines progressive discipline as follows:
The approach of progressive discipline in the workplace considers the purpose of discipline as a measure for employees to know and understand which standards are required of them. Reasonable steps must therefore be taken to improve or change employees’ behaviour through the systematic use of warnings and consultations.
The LRA recognises counselling in the form of consultations as a method of progressive discipline. Discipline in the workplace aims to correct and improve the behaviour of employees. The most common example of progressive discipline is issuing written warnings following an employee’s transgression of a workplace rule or procedure. Drafting and issuing a written warning is a quick and simple way of applying progressive discipline. The employee receives a written description of his misconduct followed by a concise explanation of the facts that led to the written warning.
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But, is issuing a written warning always the most appropriate and effective form of progressive discipline?
A written warning informs the employee that a workplace rule or procedure has been transgressed and that should the specific act of misconduct be repeated within a specific time frame, further and more serious disciplinary steps may follow. The issuing of a written warning does not necessarily imply that the employee understands the employer’s disciplinary code and the consequences of the misconduct for the employer and fellow employees.
Counselling is an appropriate form of discipline in instances where the employee’s conduct does not comply with a rule or standard of the employer, or the employee is not aware of a rule that regulates conduct, and in instances where the misconduct is not of a serious nature.
A good example is an employee who regularly reports late for work. According to the disciplinary code an employer is entitled, after the first instance of reporting late for work, to issue the employee with a written warning. After the third instance of late-coming and following the issuing of a final written warning, an employee may be dismissed (after holding a disciplinary hearing). The employee will be fully aware that the continuous late reporting for work is unacceptable to the employer and the employer has applied progressive discipline as a result thereof. But the question is whether the employee truly realises why it is important to report on time for work.
In such instances, counselling as a form of progressive discipline can be beneficial for both the employer and employee. During a formal counselling consultation the employer can outline the negative impact and consequences of reporting late for work. The employee will also be given the opportunity to provide reasons why he or she is frequently late for work. Solutions and suggestions to solve the issue can also be discussed.
It is essential to keep a record of counselling consultations with an employee and any decisions and suggestions made must be put into writing. This serves as proof that the employer has applied counselling as a form of progressive discipline. If the employee’s misconduct persists the employer will be left with no choice but to apply other forms of progressive discipline in the form of written warnings.
When is it not appropriate?
Counselling as a form of progressive discipline will, however, not be appropriate in instances of serious misconduct, for example theft, gross negligence and dishonesty. These transgressions amount to serious miscondut and usually lead to an irreparable breakdown of the employer and employee relationship.
Progressive discipline, and more specifically counselling, can be applied successfully in the workplace if the employee makes a genuine attempt not to repeat the misconduct and rectify his/her behaviour.
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