Set your standards from the start, for everyone’s benefit…

Statistics show that 87% of cases brought before the CCMA are won by employees, often because their employers didn’t follow the correct procedures. To protect your business, it’s well worth creating a human resources system that includes all the documentation required in terms of our labour laws. In addition, as is true of all relationships, it is helpful for both parties to know exactly what is expected of them, what is acceptable and what procedures should be followed if there is a problem.


Your policies and procedures should provide a structured framework of how your organisation operates. You can have any number, but there are a few that you really should have in place:

  • Disciplinary policy and procedures – how disciplinary measures will be implemented.
  • Grievance procedures – the procedures employees should follow if they have problems with someone or something within the organisation.
  • Sexual harassment policy – you are vicariously liable if it’s held that you didn’t respond appropriately to a possible victim of sexual harassment. Have a policy in place so all parties know exactly what to do.
  • HIV/AIDS policy – detail how your organisation handles employees with HIV/AIDS and how you expect employees to behave.
  • Leave policy– this should detail what you will allow and what procedures should be followed to apply for leave.
  • Electronic communications policy – detailing what your organisation does and doesn’t allow in terms of email and internet access and the ramifications of abuse.
  • Code of good practice – not essential but a nice to have. This policy provides a foundation for the ethics, conduct and norms of behaviour and performance expected by the business.


Many cases appear in front of the CCMA because employers have not followed the correct procedures when dismissing employees. Generally employees are dismissed for one of two reasons – misconduct or poor work performance. Misconduct occurs when an employee breaks your rules and/or breaches the terms of the employment contract and/or causes excessive harm to your company. Poor work performance relates to your employee not meeting your required performance standards.

Discipline is often poorly handled in small firms. It is ignored until things come to a head and management decides that an employee has to be given their marching orders immediately. The employee then often turns around and take the employer to the CCMA.

Who’s at fault here?

Typically it’s the employer’s fault for mishandling the situation. Appropriate discipline should be handed out when the first problem occurs. There are procedures stipulated in the Labour Relations Act (obtain a copy of the Act from, which must be followed.


You should have clear codes of conduct in place. Create a graduated system of disciplinary measures to correct an employee’s behaviour through verbal and written warnings, final written warnings and disciplinary hearings. If the offence is serious you can go straight to written warnings, final written warnings or a disciplinary hearing. Only dismiss for serious misconduct (such as fraud, assault etc. where there is a break down of the trust relationship) or repeated offences. You cannot just fire someone, you must always hold a disciplinary hearing where the chairperson will decide whether the employee should be dismissed or not.

Create templates of the necessary disciplinary forms, include counselling meeting records, written warnings, final written warnings and disciplinary hearing records and forms. These should always be used and records kept on file.


The objective of the grievance procedure is to provide a formal channel for the upward communication of problems and to help settle them as quickly as possible – all in the interest of maintaining good relationships.

Your grievance policy should: 

  • Have clear guidelines as to the procedures employees should follow if they have grievances.
  • Establish procedures with regard to how management should handle grievances.
  • Include templates of grievance forms. 


Employment contracts are crucial. These set out the ground rules, detail what is expected of employees and what they can expect in return, and act as reference documents on a wide variety of issues. If a contract isn’t in places employers and employees are bound by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Labour Relations Act. This is not ideal as strong employment contracts provide much more protection for your business.

There are some important factors to bear in mind when drawing up employment contracts:

  • KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)

    Don’t use convoluted legal speak. Use concise, simple English (or other language) that both parties understand.

  • Sign before they start

    make sure your new employees sign their contracts before they start work – once they’ve started work they cannot be forced to sign the contract and you might have to negotiate tricky clauses e.g. restraint of trades.

  • Drawn them up together

    If your employees haven’t signed contracts, don’t despair – put them in place and then sit down and work through them together. Ensure this is done in a relaxed, non-threatening environment with the emphasis on the benefits of both parties formalising their rights and responsibilities.

  • Renew, renew, renew

    Don’t forget to renew the contracts of your fixed-term employees and independent contractors. You want to prevent your staff or clients being poached and trade secrets being stolen.


  • Probationary period

    Usually three months in duration. This ensures that you can terminate the services of unsuitable new employees quickly and efficiently. You can’t just tell them to pack their bags and get out, there is a process that must be followed.

  • Conditions of employment

    This includes a description of duties with the proviso that the organisation can require employees to undertake other duties within reason – so no “it’s not in my job description” issues, as well as:

    Working hours and breaks (including smoke breaks).
    Remuneration – monthly payment date, amount, method of payment, relevant deductions and any extra provisions such as commission, petrol/cell phone allowances.
    Benefits – annual leave (usually 15 days but can be increased especially for senior staff or long service staff), sick leave (with provisos for investigating excessive or suspicious sick leave), family responsibility leave, annual bonuses, annual increases, medical aid, retirement funding if applicable.

  • Protection clauses

    Exclusive service – ensuring your employee only works for you unless you give them written consent.
    Trade secrets and confidentiality – ensuring your confidential information, methodology, marketing/expansion plans, new contracts/clients stay exactly that – confidential.
    Ownership and/or copyright – ensuring that any materials, programmes or systems that are developed by employees while they are employed by you are solely owned and copyrighted by the organisation.
    Non-solicitation of clients/fellow staff members – ensuring that ex-employees don’t cavass your clients, potential clients and fellow staff members.
    Restraints of trade – these are only applicable for key members of staff where it would make a difference if they started up a competitor business or worked for a competitor in reasonable proximity to your business. You need to look at these carefully.
    Electronic communications proviso – to stop abuse of email and internet; to allow you to access employees e-communications and instigate appropriate discipline in the case of employees accessing porn sites, downloading inappropriate or huge amounts of data etc.
    Termination – usually one calendar month but you can make it longer in the case of key employees that you are going to battle to replace and train up new employees. 

And finally, don’t forget to get both parties to sign, date and witness and put the original copy on the employee’s file. You would be surprised how often this step is missed and it negates everything mentioned above. 


Claire Stewart – Founder of PeopleWise – Your Business