Poor work performance in the workplace can broadly be defined as failure of the employee to reach or maintain the employer’s work performance standards. It can also commonly be referred to as incapacity. Any employer may set certain performance standards that employees would be required to meet to remain employed. There is no hard and fast rule in South African labour laws, however, the laws do recognize that an employer may require the employee to perform work of an acceptable or adequate standard within the discretion of the employer.
There are many factors that can be the direct cause of it or may contribute towards poor work performance, some of the factors are as follows:
- Alcohol or drug addiction, the best way to prohibit this from occurring is to include a clause in the employment contract where the employee declares that they are free from any form of addiction to any substance that may cause a narcotic effect and that they do not use any form of substance that has a narcotic effect socially or otherwise, except as prescribed by a medical practitioner.
- Work related stress, this is stress caused by the job requirements. Employers must never allocate extra duties to an employee because he is performing well with the current job requirements. Extra duties must be allocated to an existing employee if both the employer and the employee agree that the employee can take on extra tasks and can handle the extra task as well as the existing tasks simultaneously.
- Outside occurrences, this may also lead to poor work performance. For instances where a good performing employee suddenly does not perform as well due to an event that occurred outside of the workplace such as an employee suffering severe financial distress, death of a family member, or discovered that he/she or a family member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The employer can provide guidance or refer the employee for counselling in this regard.
The aforementioned is not an exhaustive list.
South African labour laws require that the standard of performance set by the employer in the workplace must be lawfully reasonable and relevant to the workplace. The duty is on the employer to make these standards known to the employee at commencement of employment. The employer will have the right to measure the employee’s work performance against the known standard work performance required by the employee. Should the employee fail to meet the standard requirements, the employer or designated representative should consult with the employee and establish the cause of the employee’s poor work performance. The employer should further take steps to assist the employee in finding a solution for the poor work performance.
The employer must apply procedurally and substantive fair procedures. Fair procedure entails identifying the causes of the poor performance, obtaining the employee’s reasons for the poor performance, evaluating the employee’s reasons for their poor performance and obtaining a commitment from the employee regarding the actions the employee will take to rectify the problem. Substantive fairness is achieved by the employer if the employer proves that despite giving the employee the necessary further training, guidance or counselling within a reasonable timeframe the employee’s performance remained poor and that the only alternative would be dismissal. Dismissal must be preceded by fair procedure and the dismissal must be affected for a fair reason.
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