Poor Performance Procedures

When can you dismiss an employee for performing poorly at work

Poor Performance Procedures
When can you dismiss an employee for performing poorly at work

Source: article by Derek Jackson of Labour Guide

Poor Work Performance falls under the broad heading of Incapacity.

Poor work performance or failure by the employee to reach and maintain the employer’s work performance standards in terms of quantity and quality of output is an ever increasing problem.

It is implicit in all employment contracts that the employee undertakes to perform according to the reasonable, lawful and attainable work performance standards set by the employer. Should the employee fail in this duty, then he is said to be “incapable” and the employer has the right to dismiss after following a fair procedure and ensuring that the dismissal is for a fair reason.

Disciplinary action is never applied in cases of poor work performance. The reason is that poor work performance is usually not the fault of the employee, and the employee cannot be disciplined for something that is not his fault.

There are many factors that can be the direct cause of it, or may contribute to it. Some of these are:

Lack of training, qualifications and experience

Generally, this should be established at the interview and selection stage. Poorly qualified candidates or candidates who lack the inherent requirements to do the job should never be employed unless the employer intends to fully train that candidate, or in cases of a recognized learnership.

Only suitably qualified candidates should be short-listed, and even with learnerships it should be established that the candidate does have at least a reasonable chance of success before employment is agreed to – in other words, he should possess at least the basic ability to perform the inherent requirements of the job, which can be developed by further training.

Far too often, a candidate is employed just “on the face of things” or because “he seemed like the right person.”

Employment decisions are also made on first impressions, or because the H.R. find it “too much trouble” to carry out reference checks, credit checks and so on.

To make an employment decision on such a basis amounts to nothing less than gross negligence and dereliction of duty on the part of the employer.

Thus, a candidate who is lacking in training, qualifications or experience should never be employed unless the employer is prepared to afford that employee the opportunity, usually at the expense of the employer, to undergo further study and training, and to obtain on-the-job training.

Alcohol or drug addiction.

Be careful never to employ a person whom you suspect may be a heavy drinker, an alcoholic, or addicted to any substance having a narcotic producing effect.

Precautions here would include a declaration to be signed by all candidates that he/she warrants that they are free of any form of addiction to alcohol or to any type of  habit-forming drug, or any substance having a narcotic producing effect, and that they do not use any form of habit-forming drug or any substance having a narcotic producing or habit-forming effect, socially or otherwise,  except as prescribed by a medical practitioner who is qualified and certified to prescribe such substances for medicinal purposes, and who is qualified and certified to diagnose and treat patients.

Should it at any time during the tenure of the employment contract be found that the contrary is the case, disciplinary action will be taken which will lead to dismissal.

The candidate agrees that any offer of or assistance towards any aspect of rehabilitation shall be at the sole discretion of the employer.

The candidate should sign this declaration with the words : “ I know and understand the contents of this condition of employment, and signify my agreement by appending my signature hereto below.”

The candidate signs and dates the condition in the presence of a witness.

Outside influences

The most common causes of poor work performance have been stated above, and it is sometimes found that a previously good-performing or satisfactory employee suddenly “goes off the rails.”

His attendance or timekeeping may also suffer. The first aspect to investigate is the alcohol or drug abuse aspect, and it will be found that, if these symptoms exist, they have been caused by some other problem that is a source of such concern to the employee, that the work performance has become affected.

These influences take many forms – perhaps the employee has landed himself in heavy financial difficulty ( very common), or is perhaps undergoing a messy divorce, or is having an affair and fears being discovered, or children doing badly at school, (even involved in drugs) , perhaps has discovered that his wife is having an affair, or the terminal illness of a loved one, the recent sudden death of a much loved family member, and so on.

Work related stress

Poor work performance can also be brought about – and indeed this is becoming a very common cause of poor work performance – by work related stress.

This refers to stress caused by the job requirements. The most common cause is the situation where a very good employee – a star performer – is, over time, given extra duties to handle and extra jobs to do for no other reason that “he can handle it.”  “Give it to so-and-so – that guy is really good – he won’t mind.”

The need for someone to do the extra jobs can also result from the employer obtaining a greater market share, or from an increased demand for his products or services.

Now, I don’t want to tar everybody with the same brush, but generally, the  employer is in business for one reason and one reason only – namely to make money – to make a profit. And if he can save money (or increase profits) without increasing his operating expenses ( such as extra staff)  – then why not ??

These extra jobs can also result from the resignation or dismissal of another employee, and the employer sees a chance to “save some cash” by palming the jobs off onto other employees.

Seldom, if ever, does the employer give any meaningful thought or serious consideration to the aspect of “Can he really handle it to the benefit of the company and himself.? Or is it going to be too much for him ? And most importantly, what is likely to be the extent of the damage if he can’t handle it.?”

Employers must never allocate extra duties to an employee because he is performing well in his new job, or because “he’s a good guy” , or because the employer wished to save on his salary bill.

Those are all recipes for disaster.

Extra duties must be allocated to an existing employee only because the employer and the employee both agree that he is capable of taking on those extra tasks, can handle those extra tasks as well as his existing tasks jointly, according to the employer’s required work performance standards, and a suitable adjustment to the employee’s salary and benefits must be agreed to.

Employer’s would do well to remember that nobody works for nothing . Any person who works for nothing to allow another person to make a profit is an idiot.

Ill health or injury

Poor performance due to ill health or injury is self explanatory, and the procedure is dealt with later.


An employee may be said to be incompatible for a number of reasons. There is no law stating that all employees must be the same – some are different. And it is the difference that makes one employee compatible and another not compatible – a misfit.

Bad or unacceptable behaviour or a bad or unacceptable attitude – this falls within the definition of “incompatible”.

Sometimes it is difficult to define. It does not quite fit the requirements of misconduct, and does not fall under operational requirements.

But we do know that the persons behaviour, his attitude, his way of doing things, his rebellion or whatever it is must be addressed. Other employees complain continually about this person, and especially that “ he is simply impossible, no person can get along with him and his attitude is unacceptable.”

You don’t quite know what the problem is, but you do know that “he has to go.”

Procedural and Substantive fairness in dismissal 

In all cases, dismissal must be preceded by a fair procedure (procedural fairness) and the dismissal must be effected for a fair reason (substantive fairness.)

Procedural fairness will be achieved by the employer following the procedures in this course. As with most important things in life, nothing is guaranteed – but in our view, these procedures come as near to achieving procedural fairness as can possibly be done.

Substantive fairness is achieved by the employer proving that the employee actually failed to meet the work performance standard, despite having been given the necessary evaluation, counselling, training and guidance and despite having been afforded a reasonable time period in which to attain and maintain the required standard. Thus the only remaining option was dismissal.

A fair procedure encompasses: 

  • Establishing that the problem is poor performance and not misconduct.
  • Identifying the causes of the poor performance
  • Meeting with the employee and his line manager to establish the causes of the poor performance
  • In particular, obtain the employee’s reasons for the poor performance
  • Evaluate the employee’s reasons for the poor performance
  • Obtain commitment from the employee regarding what action he will take to rectify the problem
  • Inform the employee of what action the employer will take to assist in that process
  • Agree on a reasonable time period for improvement.
  • Follow up and monitor the progress.

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