Poor work performance and dereliction of duty

It is important for employers to distinguish between poor work performance and dereliction of duty when taking action against employees which may result in dismissal. This is because they require different processes, and the use of the incorrect process can expose the employer to a finding that the dismissal was unfair, and to an order requiring the employer to reinstate the employee or to pay him/her compensation.

Simply put, poor work performance is recognised as a form of incapacity, and it involves a situation where the employee CAN’T DO what is required to meet the required performance standard. This may be due to the absence of the skills or capabilities required to perform the task.

Dereliction of duty, on the other hand, pertains to a situation where the employee CAN DO the work but WON’T DO what is required. It is recognised as a form of misconduct,  rather than incapacity.

At a procedural level, in a situation of poor work performance (incapacity), the employer is required to initiate a process aimed at engaging with the employee and giving the employee the necessary tools to meet the performance standard (such as training, coaching and guidance). The process typically runs over a period of months, and includes regular feedback to the employee regarding whether or not he/she is improving. If, at the end of the process, the poor work performance still remains, the employer may convene a poor work performance inquiry which may result in the employee’s dismissal (or in a demotion, by agreement,  to a lower job that the employee has the capabilities to perform).

In a dereliction of duty scenario, the employer should convene a disciplinary hearing to determine whether the employee is guilty of misconduct, and if so, what an appropriate sanction would be. In serious cases, the sanction may be dismissal, but in less serious cases, a warning or lighter sanction may be appropriate.

Because of the differences in the required procedure, it is crucial to differentiate up-front between poor work performance and dereliction of duty.

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