In cases of disciplinary action, the institution of an investigation and the proffering of charges against the accused employee must not be delayed unnecessarily. This does not mean that the employer must cut short its investigation for fear of breaking the rule requiring prompt disciplinary action, and in the process harm its chances of a successful outcome in the ensuing disciplinary hearing.
It means, in practice, that the employer should:
- Begin the investigation into the alleged misconduct without delay once it has discovered the infraction. The sooner the investigation begins, the sooner it can be completed.
- Ensure that the investigation is completed without any unnecessary delay but also without unnecessary haste.
A balance between speed and thoroughness must be created. A thoroughly competent investigator must be assigned immediately. He/she must make the investigation a priority and attempt to prevent extraneous issues from delaying the progress of the investigation. He/she must, on the one hand, turn over every stone in discovering the facts of the case but, on the other hand, must find ways of effectively managing the time spent on the investigation.
This should result in a large number of facts being discovered in as short a time as possible.
- Decide, based on the findings of the investigation, whether there are grounds to hold a disciplinary hearing.
- If such grounds exist, formulate the charges without delay and notify the employee thereof.
However, employers need to proceed with caution. The principle requiring speedy discipline does not allow the employer to hold the actual hearing before the employee has had a fair opportunity to prepare a defence. Thus, a delay in holding the hearing will be well justified if it is motivated by the need to give the employee time to understand the charges and to apply his/her mind to a defence. Where employers do not have internal officials with the time or know-how to manage this process, they are advised to outsource this task to an external expert, such as Uphando HR Services.