Wednesday 8 February 2012

Choosing a Chairperson for a Disciplinary Enquiry - internal or external?

There are two schools of thought of whether or not the Chairperson for a Disciplinary Enquiry should be appointed from inside the company or outside.

An internal Chairperson should have a good day to day knowledge of the policies and procedures of the company and be in a supervisory or management position. 

An external Chairperson may not have a good day to day knowledge of the policies and procedures of the company. But this however may be overcome by obtaining a copy of the company's policies and procedures. The external Chairperson may also communicate with the person who is responsible for the Human Resources role within the company to find out what the company practices are. Over time, if the same external Chairperson is used, they would gain a more in depth understanding of the company and it operations, whilst maintaining their objectivity. 

Both the internal and external Chairperson should have had training or appropriate experience, in handling misconduct, and sufficient experience in supervising and disciplining staff. Ideally the Chairperson would have a proven ability to be objective and not be emotionally swayed to misconduct. 

Whether an internal or external Chairperson is appointed they should be unbiased and have no prior or very minimal knowledge of the situation and the evidence, that they are going to make a recommendation on. 

Sadly, what can happen with an internal Chairperson, is they have too much prior knowledge of the incident and  may become subjective and be emotionally biased toward or against the employee who has misbehaved. They may feel this way because they are swayed by an understanding of the company and how it and possibly other employees have been affected by the misconduct.

Whereas, an external Chairperson is usually not so closely connected to the company nor the employee and is therefore more objective. The Chairperson should ensure that he or she complies with a fair procedure and the reasons for the recommended sanction are substantive. It would be important to the external Chairperson to maintain their integrity in providing a recommendation of sanction as this may very well be tested at the CCMA, Bargaining Council or the Labour Court.

It should also be remembered that the company makes the final decision whether or not to implement the recommendation of sanction from the external Chairperson. The company reserves the right to manage their staff and the business and make decisions. Accordingly a  Chairperson may recommend dismissal, but however, the company may choose to rather give a Final Written Warning as the sanction, or they may also decide on dismissal.

I believe that if the above principles are applied and the company does not have a suitable manager to Chair a Disciplinary Enquiry then it is in the company's interests to appoint a suitable external Chairperson.

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