As every employer knows, employing staff can be risky business. Human nature tends to be unpredictable, and you never know when an employee may turn on you. Sometimes misconduct by an employee is not immediately apparent. An employee may be surreptitiously damaging the company over the course of several months, sometimes even years, before the employer becomes aware that something is amiss.
For example: you run a small consultancy. Your receptionist doubles as your accounts clerk. She keeps track of your billing hours and ensures that customers are invoiced. Most customers pay by EFT, but some prefer to pay cash or by credit card. Your trusty receptionist is on hand to process card transactions or accept cash payments and ensure they’re deposited into the company’s bank account. Over time, you wonder why your monthly income is so erratic. You’ve taken on more customers; your fees have increased – yet this isn’t reflecting in your take-home pay each month. You start paying increased attention to your receptionist’s actions. And you start wondering why not much cash gets banked – yet you know that several of your customers prefer cash payments. You scrutinize your accounts a little more closely, whereupon you notice an alarming increase in credit notes passed through your books. You don’t want to be too hasty in jumping to conclusions. But clearly you need to get your financials audited to confirm your suspicions – and preferably without your receptionist around, getting in the way. What to do?
In this case, you can consider placing your receptionist on suspension. Suspension provides the employer with an opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation into allegations of misconduct without the risk that the employee will hamper the investigations by:
- attempting to “correct” her actions or in any way reverse, disguise or cover up the problem;
- destroying evidence that may incriminate her;
- threatening anyone else that may be involved, or intimidating witnesses;
- or otherwise doing anything that may hinder your enquiry into her possible misconduct.
In addition, if allegations are particularly serious and ultimately transpire to be true, you’d rather the employee was asked to leave your place of business as soon as possible to prevent the employee from causing any further damage.
Note that suspension is not a punitive action. It is not indicative of any disciplinary measures or intended as a form of punishment, and the fact that an employee is or has been placed on suspension cannot be held against him or her at a later date. Suspension is purely intended to protect an employer who is conducting an investigation into allegations of misconduct. It’s the labour law way of protecting a crime scene to avoid contamination, so to speak.
So now that you have your suspicions, you would need to:
- Act in accordance with your employment policies and procedures. What does your company policy say about suspending an employee?
- If you don’t have company policies and procedures (maybe it’s time to get them in place?) or if your company policies are silent on the matter, you can give the employee a Notice of Suspension. Note:
- Suspension must be on full pay.
- The employee must be given reasons why s/he is being placed on suspension. You don’t need to give detailed specifics – just a high-level description of the misconduct allegations that are being investigated.
- The period of suspension cannot be unnecessarily long. It must be limited to as long as may be required for the investigation to be finalised.
- As with all things in labour law, the employee must be allowed to put forward representation if s/he disputes the suspension.
- The employee must be informed when s/he is required to return to work.
So you use an Employee Suspension Notice to put your receptionist on suspension, on full pay, pending an investigation into alleged financial misconduct. As soon as possible, you get your auditors to audit your accounts. Following their investigations, your receptionist’s modus operandi becomes apparent: whenever a client pays cash she has been pocketing the cash for herself and then processing a credit note through your accounts. Further investigation reveals that she’s been skimming cash from your business since the day she was appointed, but on a far smaller scale. Over time she got greedy, or perhaps over-confident, and started stealing more and more from the company. The cherry on the top comes when you discover that she even persuaded some of your clients to switch to cash payments against the promise of a cash discount on the fee!
Now that you have her nailed, your next step is to phone her up, blast her with a litany of four-lettered words, and end your verbal rampage with “You’re fired!” Right? Wrong. Now that you have the evidence you need, your next step is to start disciplinary action against her. You may have more than enough factual evidence against her, but you still need to ensure that a proper disciplinary procedure is followed before you can safely dismiss her, secure in the knowledge that if she did decide to run off to the CCMA you’d have nothing to fear.
Please note that this information is supplied for general information and does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable for you to contact a legal practitioner for guidance in respect of your unique requirements.