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Tips, advice, and information for South African business owners

13 Sep

Up To Standard

Flags, banners, and other insignia have a long history of military application. As rallying points and symbols for distinguishing between friend and foe, they were often priority targets. Being “up to standard” was a very literal priority: getting separated from your brethren on the field of battle rarely ended well.

White-collar warriors embroiled in corporate warfare are also expected to remain “up to standard”. Doing so may not have the same life or death consequences, but the stakes are still very real – especially for business owners who are frustrated with their employees’ performance.

Standards are integral to the success of performance-related remedial efforts as well as the lawfulness of formal disciplinary measures. Employers have a number of legal responsibilities in this respect, particularly when contemplating dismissal for poor performance (we’ll be covering this in detail during our workshop next week).

A common challenge to the fairness of a performance-related dismissal is that clear standards were never established. Employment contracts and job descriptions may detail what employees need to do, but they rarely specify how well they need to do it. All too often, performance standards exist only in the owner’s head as subjective expectations.

Setting and communicating clear standards is a necessary first step, but insufficient on its own. You also have to show that an employee’s performance actually fell short of the prescribed standards and that reasonable corrective efforts were made. This is clearly impossible if performance standards have not been explicitly set. However, even if they have, it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

Finally, even if you have set appropriate standards, can clearly show that an employee’s performance fell short, and that reasonable opportunities for improvement were exhausted, dismissal may still not be a fair consequence. Mitigating factors (e.g. an employee’s personal circumstances) and the possibility of alternative measures (e.g. demotion or relocation) have to be considered as well.