Labour legislation sets strict requirements that employers must comply with and employers often feel that they are getting the short end of the stick. However, employers must realise that they have many rights in the workplace, but also have the responsibility to enforce these rights.


Some of the rights employers can claim that pertain to rules and discipline in the workplace, include:


Implementing clear rules in the workplace

Clear rules and guidelines limit friction and misunderstandings, which promotes productivity and a positive work environment. However, every workplace is unique and there is often a need for specific rules to provide order and structure in the workplace. Rules are implemented through the employment contract, policies and procedures.


  • Policies are not underwritten by labour legislation, but set the employer’s own rules in the workplace. These rules must be reasonable. Typical policies include a smoking policy, mobile phone policy, hygiene policy, alcohol policy, etc.
  • A procedure is a set or official way of dealing with a situation, such as the steps to be followed in relation to grievances, applications for leave, etc.


Maintaining discipline in the workplace is vital to productivity, as well as a positive working environment.  The employer must have clear rules and guidelines in the workplace and ensure that every employee is aware of these rules.  It is very important that every workplace has a relevant and up to date disciplinary code. The disciplinary code is essential to ensure that there are clear rules in the workplace, with appropriate sanctions, that employees can follow.


Enforcing discipline

When these rules are violated, the employer can apply progressive discipline, or in cases of serious misconduct proceed directly with a disciplinary hearing (take care to follow the correct procedure).  Dismissal should always be the last option.  The employer must keep record of violations and sanctions as applied.


The aim of discipline in the workplace is to correct and improve behaviour through redress, consultations, and warnings, rather than to punish or dismiss an employee.  When the employer notices a change in behaviour of an employee, the first step is to consult with the employee and confirm the desired behaviour.  It is important to give the employee the opportunity to present more information and explain the situation from his/her point of view.


An employer can never dismiss an employee under any circumstances, even with valid reason, without first holding a disciplinary hearing to ensure procedural fairness (that a fair procedure is followed) and substantive fairness (a valid and fair reason for the sanction imposed).


Most cases referred to the CCMA pertain to unfair dismissal. In general arbitration awards in favour of the employee are due to incorrect procedures on the employer’s behalf. These awards can have serious consequences with a huge financial impact.



The workplace is a very diverse environment in terms of culture, religion, beliefs, values, political views, frames of reference, work ethics, opinions, communication skills etc.  Not everyone will always get along and when conflict, friction, or a misunderstanding arises, the employer must step in and help resolve the matter before it escalates or begins to affect more employees.  The same goes for suspected misconduct and poor work performance.


The key is to address matters as they happen and before it escalates to a more serious nature that gravely impacts the employer-employee relationship, workplace morale, and the employer’s reputation.  The solution is so easy:  pick up the phone and get expert labour law advice for your situation.



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