Counselling of Employees
By Johanette Rheeder
When to Council or to Discipline
Employers or mangers often waits too long before they start with addressing the misbehaviour or
misconduct of employees. Small instances of misconduct is overlooked and the bad behaviour of the
employee slowly but surely escalates. The role and benefit of counselling employees on their behaviour
came to forefront again in the Sidumo case when the Judge ruled that the behaviour of the employee
could have been addressed with counselling.
Counselling is the first step of addressing or correcting the behaviour of the employee. It is an invaluable
way of ensuring that the employee knows the rule and cannot later claim ignorance. It is also a way of
correcting the behaviour of the employee at a stage when the employee is not up for disciplinary
measures yet. Counselling can start with informal discussions with the employee. Normally this applies
for small deviations in the behaviour of the employee, which often relates to ignorance and
inexperience or just bad judgement. The main aim is to informally correct the behaviour of the
employee. Once the manager realises that the informal counselling is not effective and the employee
continues to misbehave, the manager can move over to formal counselling which entails a formal
discussion with HR being involved and the meeting being minuted, with clear guidelines as to what
behaviour is unacceptable and what is required of the employee. The employee should be asked to sign
these documents and it should be filed on the employee’s personnel file.
Disciplinary measures are often chosen when the employee could have been counselled instead. It is the
choice of the manager which route to follow, both has the same aim – correcting the behaviour.
The Value of Counselling
Counselling is an invaluable way of showing that the employer is trying to correct behaviour of the
employee. It is also less confrontational and goes a long way to showing goodwill towards an employee
and building the relationship rather than jumping to disciplinary action.
In more serious cases, it also constitutes evidence during subsequent disciplinary hearings, that the
employee knows the rule or the conduct expected of the employee.
Recording the Process
It is always advisable to record the process, even informally. Many a manager has lost the value
of many a counselling session or discussion because it has not been properly recorded. Especially
the informal discussions must be recorded, even a brief inscription in a diary or on email
constitutes a record and will refresh the memory of the manager. It will be evidence in the
hearing as well.
Johanette Rheeder (BLC, LLB, LLM(Labour Law), is an Attorney and Labour Law Specialist