What is progressive discipline?
Progressive discipline is about correcting employees’ unacceptable behaviour. When disciplining employees, it is important to place the focus on teaching the employee what behaviour is expected. Using means that intend to hurt employees instead of teaching them to correct their behaviour, otherwise known as punitive means, is not allowed.
Even instituting dismissal straight away can be seen as punitive. Why? Because it is not progressive.
Employers have to follow the course of progressive discipline as laid out in Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act.
Progressive discipline consists of disciplinary measures that give the employee a chance to improve. Common progressive measures include warnings to an employee.
If an employee breaks a rule, he can be issued with a warning. If he does it again, he can be issued with a final warning. Accumulated warnings can eventually lead to a disciplinary hearing and possible dismissal. However it is important to keep in mind that the warnings and infringements must be of a similar type in order to be considered as progressive.
Another vitally important point to note around progressive discipline is that warnings are not indefinite. In other words, they have an expiry date. Although the law does not set out a timeframe for the validity of warnings, common practice shows that 6-12 months is generally accepted. A written warning is normally valid for 6 months and a final written warning for 12 months.
If a warning expires, it may not be used in progressive discipline steps ultimately leading to a dismissal. However, they may be used as aggravating circumstances once the employee has been found guilty of an offense and the appropriate sanction must be decided upon.