Organisations’ day-to-day operations are performed by their employees.
The key word here is employees, indicating something in the plural form, which suggests more than one person involved. Where two or more people are concerned, the likelihood of a conflict arising is high.
In the workplace, the same principle applies, conflicts in this case would be brought about by a misconduct committed. Once a misconduct has been committed, proper and relevant disciplinary action must be taken against the employees responsible. Disciplinary action comes in the form demotions, dismissals, warnings and so on.
It is important to mention that warnings also come in two types, namely verbal and written warnings. Verbal warnings are regarded as the very first step to try and stop unwanted behaviour. Unwanted behaviour in this case speaks to minor misconducts, i.e. late coming, not submitting reports on time and so on. When a matter escalates to written warnings, it would normally have persisted after the verbal warning stage. Did you know, though, that before you can issue a written warning letter, a disciplinary hearing must have been held?
Warning letters, as just explained, normally come after verbal warnings. They provide a sterner consequence of committing an unwanted behaviour and are a guide as to what should happen if the behaviour persists. They form part of every company’s disciplinary policy/procedure.
Ideally, these policies or procedures should exist in every organisation. They do not only guide in what must be done but also in the possible outcomes regarding misconduct. It is also vital that employees are made aware of these. We now get into the interesting part, which is to analyse the technicalities in relation to disciplinary hearings.
Warning letters are written accounts of the confirmation that a misconduct has been committed and advice on what should happen if the behaviour persists. The warning letters are to guard against a future similar misconduct/offence.
The previous statement confirms that for a warning letter to be issued, an offence must have been committed and must have been confirmed. But how you do you turn an allegation into a confirmed offence or misconduct? This is done through a fair disciplinary hearing. Disciplinary hearings afford the employee the opportunity to share their side of the story and their account of events.
During a hearing, the employee could prove that maybe there was a valid reason behind their persistent late coming, for instance. If the reasons provided are considered sound and relevant, the outcome could be yet another verbal warning. However, if the employee was not given the opportunity to plead their case, it could lead to them being wrongfully accused and thus to a wrongful disciplinary action. For the fact, the proper procedure was not followed, i.e. the law, and the disciplinary action would be considered wrongful and thus null and void.
This warning letter, if issued in the absence of a hearing, cannot be used in future as a point of reference during any other disciplinary matter because, technically speaking, it does not even exist.
The general misconception that warning letters can be written by line managers, heads of department or HR managers following a verbal warning is very wrong in terms of the Employment Act. They are to be issued as an outcome of a fair disciplinary hearing. Failing to do this would lead to the issued letter being null and void and therefore basically non-existent.
To avoid any unpleasant run-ins with the law, it is better to abide by the correct process.
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