Why investigate an employee?

When an employer has reason to believe that an employee has committed serious misconduct it may be necessary to conduct an investigation prior to commencing a disciplinary process.

The Code of Good Practice: Dismissal (Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act, 66 of 1995) recommends that an investigation be undertaken by an employer to establish if there are grounds for misconduct which may warrant dismissal.

The purpose of an investigation prior to a disciplinary enquiry is to establish whether factual evidence exists to show that on a balance of probabilities, the employee committed the allegations of misconduct. An investigation may also demonstrate that there is insufficient evidence against an employee to institute disciplinary proceedings and accordingly guards against hasty and potentially baseless disciplinary proceedings. Such investigations ensure that there is at least some evidence indicating that an employee has committed the allegations of misconduct.

The evidentiary material obtained during an investigation will also be used during subsequent disciplinary proceedings, and act as a preparatory stage to a disciplinary process. In the event that an employee is dismissed, such evidence obtained during an investigation and referred to during a disciplinary process will be used at arbitration and potentially the Labour Court.

A pre-hearing investigation is not mandatory and a measure of flexibility in disciplinary processes is permitted if a disciplinary enquiry is properly constituted and conducted and an employee is provided with an opportunity to be heard and to respond to allegations of misconduct.

Objective of an investigation

An investigation process may be documented in a report summarizing all the evidence considered (documentary and oral), and includes a recommendation as to whether disciplinary proceedings should be commenced based on the findings of the report. Reports are generally presented to the relevant Board or Committee members tasked with the authority to determine whether disciplinary proceedings should be instituted against an employee.

Investigations may be lengthy, involving substantial review of documentary evidence as well as interviews with a number of potential witnesses who have knowledge of the alleged acts of misconduct or knowledge of policies or practices of the Company.

On other occasions, investigations may be expedited in order to place pressure on an employee to submit to a mutual separation agreement. This may be particularly appealing to a senior executive employee alleged to have committed serious misconduct and who would prefer to terminate their employment away from the public eye. These quick and quiet exits are regulated by confidentiality clauses and agreements not to make disparaging statements regarding either party. Separation agreements are also made in full and final settlement of all any potential claims. In other instances, especially if potential criminal conduct is involved, mutual separation agreements may not be appropriate.

In some cases, the pressure of an investigation may result in an employee voluntarily resigning. This is especially so if compelling and damaging evidence is obtained during the investigation process. Most employees may wait until they have a sense of the evidence collected by the employer during the investigation, whilst others may resign at the sight of first steps taken towards an investigation into their alleged misconduct. As a result of duties imposed in various industries, for example, financial service providers, employers may be required to continue an investigation notwithstanding the resignation of an employee.

An investigation process may also uncover other employees acting in collusion with the alleged accused employee, or employees who had knowledge of the misconduct. In such circumstances, further disciplinary processes may commence in respect of those employees.

Suspension

It may be necessary to suspend an employee pending the outcome of an investigation process, and if applicable, pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing.

Suspensions have a detrimental impact on an effected employee and may prejudice an employee’s reputation, advancement, job security and fulfillment. Suspensions are therefore required to be based on substantive reason and must be followed by a fair procedure. Our courts have held that at least three requirements must be met prior to suspending an employee:
• the employer has a justifiable reason to believe that that the employee has engaged in serious misconduct;
• there is some objectively justifiable reason to deny the employee access to the workplace based on the integrity of any pending investigation into the alleged misconduct or some other relevant factor that would place the investigation or the interests of affected parties in jeopardy, and
• the employee is given the opportunity to state a case before the employer makes any final decision to suspend the employee.

In relation to the opportunity to state a case prior to the employer’s decision to suspend the employee, a formal hearing is not required and the opportunity to make written representation will be sufficient in most cases. This provides an opportunity to the employee to give reasons as to why he/she should not be suspended or why suspension is not necessary.

Employers can impose various conditions during a period of suspension. Those conditions include prohibiting the employee from:
• accessing the Company’s premises or the premises of any of the Company’s clients or business associates;
• accessing the Company’s IT or other systems;
• contacting any of the Company’s employees and/or clients or other business associates.

The purpose of the conditions of suspension is to ensure that the integrity of the investigation is protected during the employee’s suspension. It also prevents the employee from interfering with the investigation and attempting to influence potential witnesses to the investigation, destroying documents and deleting data contained on their work computers. Suspension ordinarily occours on full pay.

In the event that a Company investigates allegations of serious misconduct relating to a high level executive employee and has concerns of public and media attention, it may be appropriate to propose a period of “special leave” for the employee as opposed to suspension. This will not be deducted from the employee’s annual leave entitlement and is implemented on full pay. Conditions of strict confidentiality regarding the reasons for special leave may be agreed between the parties. This may be appropriate when an employer prefers the option of a mutual separation agreement and also gives room for negotiation of a hand over process in the event that mutual separation is agreed.

Randall Van Voore is a Partner and Melissa Cogger is an Associate, Employment & Benefits, Bowmans South Africa.

Why tech savvy contact centres are a must have

There is endless data that supports claims of how technology is shifting how we interact with each other and with the information we gather, but even more telling than the numbers, is the change in terminology from a call centre to a contact centre.

It’s not just about a sea of agents fielding incoming calls anymore. Instead contact centre teams need to manage and engage with customers across a wide variety of platforms to provide the best customer experience. This is true across all industries, but when it comes to educational institutions whose target audience is the tech-savvy generation, it becomes even more essential to stay up to date with the technology available and use it effectively to provide the best communication platforms possible.

Give your customers  what they want

Customer experience management and customer satisfaction are always top of mind for contact centre agents and managers. At the base of this is making sure the customer receives the information they are looking for and in the format they need. For educational institution contact centres, this is no different.

With more than 30 percent of interactions with contact centres now taking the form of email, web self-service, chat and other methods, contact centres have had to adapt to the way in which customers want to engage. What’s more, with the widespread increase in mobile and smartphone use both locally and globally, it’s no surprise that contact centres are being driven to offer more platform options for communication. This is particularly true for the millennial generation who make use of this technology as part of their daily life.

When it comes to the educational sector contact centre, one which can be highly competitive in attracting talent and one which is directly geared towards this generation, catering for these trends is essential. This means making sure the relevant information is easily accessible, queries (whether submitted via phone, email, text or social media) are resolved appropriately and the overall interaction is positive.

A multi-channel contact centre is only the first step

Implementing an effective multi-channel contact centre is not just about having all these platforms available, though. It requires both close integration of the various systems and platforms in use, as well as comprehensive measurement to assess and improve processes.

The risk of having many channels, is a contact centre not being able to manage and engage effectively across all of them. If agents are not able to manage a particular platform, it can be a wiser choice not to offer it at all – a customer not receiving the service they require can be more detrimental to a brand.

Having identified the customer need for a multi-channel contact centre, the next step is implementing an appropriate system, such as a cloud-based contact centre solution, that enables contact centre agents to respond appropriately.

With a managed, Cloud-based contact centre platform it becomes possible to identify if an individual has made contact via two or more different platforms (a scenario that is increasingly common) and what response they might have already received. This information can then guide the response, making sure the most valuable and relevant information is offered.

As far as improving service goes, measurement is a must-have. Effective measurement and comprehensive reporting enables a clear analysis of processes and teams, and allows informed decisions to be made that will enhance the customer experience.

Jed Hewson is the co-founder and Joint CEO of 1Stream.

Ways HR can support worklife balance changes in work culture

Today’s employees – especially younger people – expect to be able to strike a reasonable balance between the needs of their personal lives and their professional obligations.

They believe in working hard, but they also understand that investing time in their health, hobbies, friends and family is important to leading a fulfilled and productive life.

According to the Sage Walk with Me Report, 41% of the young workforce believes that technology will make the concept of “your desk” outdated, that the workplace will have more virtual staff in the next 10 years.

Progressive HR departments are embracing this shift in the workplace as a positive trend – and are looking at ways that they can use work-life balance as a means to attract and retain the best talent. They understand that work-life balance isn’t just good for the employee – it is also good for business because it can lead to lower costs and enhanced productivity.  

The indirect costs of an exhausted workforce include absenteeism, health costs, reduced company morale, poor employee retention, lower productivity and lapses in quality of employees’ work. The costs of constantly recruiting and training new employees to replace those who burn out or leave can be substantial. By contrast, where the workforce works sensible hours, the people are often more creative, motivated, productive and engaged.   

HR has an important role to play here – by means of helping to facilitate a culture that focuses in performance and quality of output rather than on the number of hours that people spend at their desks.

Here are some ways HR can support these changes in work culture:  

1. Be there for employees

With mobile devices in every employee’s hands, many people fail to unplug from work, even over the weekends or when they are on leave. Be aware of employees who never log off and who don’t draw a clear line between home and work.

Watch for warning signs like frequent absenteeism or slipping productivity and work quality – these might indicate that an employee is working too hard rather than slacking off. Also ask managers to watch out for signs of burn-out among the members of their teams.  

If necessary, make it a policy that employees don’t need to answer emails or their mobile phones outside work hours, unless it’s an emergency. Employee-assistance programmes or external resources can be considered to help employees who struggle to say no to pushy co-workers or who battle to manage their time.  

2. Introduce workplace flexibility

Flexible hours don’t suit every job or every organisation, but knowledge workers increasingly expect some leeway around where and when they work. Though traditional managers fear that people will be unproductive when they work from home some of the time, or have some freedom in choosing their hours, this needn’t be the case.

Getting it right is about putting the right policies, technology, processes and performance management structures in place. There are affordable cloud-based technology solutions that can assist. Collaboration software (that can track task progress), videoconferencing, and human resources apps can empower employees and give business peace of mind in terms of output. HR and managers will need to make an effort to measure output regularly to ensure no one is falling behind.

Where it isn’t possible for people to work flexible hours, companies can support employees in other ways. For example, many larger companies offer employees onsite gyms or childcare facilities, or arrange laundry collection for people who cannot get away from the office.

3. Set the example

Leading by example is one of the best successful ways for HR to create a company culture that promotes an output-oriented culture and supports the principles of a healthy work-life balance. HR can encourage managers and business owners to set an example, by taking frequent breaks, by completing their tasks and by taking their allocated holiday breaks. HR can also offer work-life balance workshops and encourage community upliftment or philanthropic activities to encourage a sense of accomplishment that is not work related.

Closing words

Whether you’re a small business owner or an HR professional at a large organisation, you’ll understand that it takes hard work and sacrifice to turn a dream business idea into a way of life. It’s important to support the employees who are joining your enterprise on this journey and to help them lead balanced and healthy lives.

Anja van Beek is the Vice President for People (HR) at Sage International (Africa Australia, Middle East and Asia).

How to harness diversity

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”  –  Audre Lorde.

RealityAround the world the trend to more diverse workplaces is accelerating. In South Africa, workplaces are beginning to mirror our population distribution. People don’t always see eye to eye. Our inbuilt stereotyping, perceptions, prejudices and bias-filters mean that we sometimes view others with jaundiced eyes (often at the unconscious level). These filters influence how we relate to others from different cultures, ethnicities, religions, belief systems, social classes, genders, sexual preferences, ages, personalities, education levels, language, lifestyles, thinking styles, physical and mental abilities, areas of special giftedness, roles, temporal orientations … Harnessing diversity in organisations is a big challenge.

Positives & possibilities

Psychology professor Richard Crisp has examined how positive creativity and progress may result from culture ‘clashes’, and how a protective, aggressive response to a threat from an outgroup can be beneficially substituted by non-dual, coalition thinking that stimulates positive forward movement.

Social scientist Andre Laurant, Emeritus Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD discovered a fascinating phenomenon. In brief: the best teams rely on the difference and uniqueness of their members to create something better than can be produced by a mono-cultural (conforming) team. But people who fear difference and put their energy into seeing differences negatively, produce little of note.  The most diverse teams can be the best performing teams.

Moving forward

Some things to do:
• Raise awareness by asking participants to step into the moccasins of the other, what social psychologists call ‘perspective taking’. They can advocate the unique and positive aspects of the other. “Counter-attitudinal advocacy is a process where publicly communicating a belief which runs counter to a belief that the individual holds, can cause a change in the belief of the individual”.
• Encourage the sharing of exchanges and stories within groups or between departments where there is diversity and a need to alter perceptions, beliefs and expectations about the roles, attitudes and characteristics of the others – to break down silos, encourage new understandings and collaboration. A new focus on social, economic and environmental sustainability/regeneration surfaces the need for similar ‘interventions’ between business, government, NGOs, activists …
• Consider that in certain instances, individual counselling and coaching is the only way forward.

Now is the time to get rid of ‘we and them’ attitudes in our organisations. Instead of walls and barriers a more appropriate metaphor for our times is that of a bridge. An Ubuntu attitude, a culture of inclusivity, where ‘cultural intelligence’ is embedded in culture and serves to attract talent, ensure better decision-making and problem-solving, more creativity – and of course a climate of tolerance and non-dual thinking.

Graham Williams is an Associate at Change Partners.

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