I wrote of a case in 2013 where an employee was paid compensation for procedural unfairness in his dismissal. This came about as a result of the HR Manager chairing his appeal hearing, having earlier advised management during the disciplinary process – NUMSA obo Daniels / DCD Marine (2009) 18 MEIBC 7.1.21
This month, there was another Labour Appeal Court case which bears mention –Msunduzi Municipality v Hoskins – (2017)26 LAC 1.11.2 also reported at  2 BLLR 124 (LAC). In this case, an HR support manager was dismissed for insubordination after he refused to stop representing employees in disciplinary hearings.
He claimed that all employees have a constitutional right to be represented by the colleague of their choice, failing to see that there was a conflict of interest between the role of a representative in disciplinary proceedings and his HR managerial position.
Both cases illustrate how HR people can get confused as to their role in disciplinary matters.
Butt of jokes
Having been an HR Manager and worked as a consultant advising clients on HR matters for most of my life, I often come across businesses where the HR department is the butt of jokes. Why is this, even when the individuals concerned may be very competent and likeable?
What is even more interesting is that as a consultant, you can give managers advice which they will readily accept but were their HR manager to give them the very same advice, they will be sceptical of it. Of course, some of this goes back to the Biblical saying “A prophet has no honour in his own land.”
However, part of the problem is that HR is a support function and far too many managers simply do not know how to make best use of support functions. For example, even today, there are managers who think that the HR Department should be responsible for investigating misconduct and chairing disciplinary hearings.
If you want to disempower line management, the quickest way to achieve this is take away their power to discipline employees. Discipline is a line management responsibility. It simply cannot be delegated, especially to HR.
Dr. Arnold Mol in his excellent book, Creating Winners in the Workplace talks about sapiential leadership:
|This is an uncommon word (it comes from sapiens, the Latin work for ‘wise’), but it best describes the leadership that stems from someone’s superior knowledge, skills or in insight. A management consultant, for example, may be a sapiential leader. He doesn’t exercise any kind of authority over his clients, yet is looked up to as ‘a leader’.
The same is true for a doctor, a lecturer, a spiritual leader, a counselor, and so on. These people are considered to be the experts in a particular field and others are willing to ‘follow’ them because of their expertise.
The purpose of sapiential leadership is to get things done right by teaching or demonstrating how problems should be solved. It involves giving advice from the side, rather than instructions from above. The sapiential leader gives others insight into the correct way of dealing with specific situations and / or problems. The focus is on increasing the knowledge and understanding of individuals. The sapiential leader’s basic message is: ‘Believe me!’ If he does not have credibility, he will be an ineffective leader.
Source: Creating Winners in the Workplace by Dr. Arnold Mol
The role of the HR manager
The role of the HR manager in a business is a difficult one. People are wary of HR people because the HR department has access to personal information about them. HR knows their salaries, they see their performance reviews, they know when they have been disciplined and they usually have some input when promotions are considered. This is goes with the job of an HR practitioner.
HR practitioners can however improve their credibility by improving their sapiential leadership, particularly when it comes to disciplinary matters. For example, HR should be pro-active in implementing sound, up to date policies and procedures and making sure that they are implemented consistently within the organisation. HR should also be pro-active in monitoring absenteeism and identifying troubled employees. These cases should be brought to the attention of management who should be encouraged to take appropriate steps in the corrective process. The emphasis should be on avoiding dismissals by ‘dealing with small things when they are still small’.
HR practitioners need to keep up to date on case law and be experts in disciplinary matters. Making bad decisions or giving wrong advice will severely damage credibility. Therefore the HR practitioner should also not be afraid to take advice before giving advice to others.
Where there is serious misconduct, HR should provide advice and support to line managers during the investigation phase and especially when a decision is taken to institute formal disciplinary proceedings. HR can also assist a line manager with case preparation but all this should be done ‘behind the scenes’.
Under no circumstances should HR practitioners be seen to be actively involved in ‘getting an employee dismissed’. HR practitioners should also not chair enquiries or appeals, other than for their direct reports or for another business.
They should be the change agents within the organisation helping management to create a better workplace. They can never hope to achieve that if they are perceived by employees to be the ‘hit squad’ responsible for having people dismissed.
Bruniquel & Associates
For more information on the HR Role in Discipline course click here.