Pitfalls of Dismissing
There may come a day when you decide that you’ve had enough! Perhaps it’s the perpetual lateness, the petty pilfering, the bad attitude or one burnt shirt too many. You can’t take any more – it’s time to fire your domestic worker!


Before you fire anybody, you need to know what to do or you’re setting yourself up for a whole heap of trouble. Marvellous Maids would like to present a brief synopsis.

FACT: You can’t just fire someone summarily. No matter what the incident or provocation (theft; drinking etc).

The decision to dismiss an employee often comes after a series of incidents of misconduct or after a very serious incident. Often the decision to dismiss is extremely emotional and tempers often run wild. One can feel violated, betrayed and/or let down and this is exactly why you shouldn’t dismiss your employee. The decision to terminate a contract of employment needs to be a rational one. The heat of the moment is not a rational time for you.

Remember not all offences are dismissible ones. For many offences, the employee must be told that there is a problem and must be given an opportunity to amend their behaviour. You will need to follow procedure in having disciplinary hearings and issuing warnings – verbal followed by written. You also need to be sure that your employee knows what construes misconduct. For certain types of misconduct, you have to specifically inform the employee that it is misconduct; this is where including a disciplinary code in your employment contract comes in handy.

When there is a problem act immediately. Don’t let it fester or turn into a habit – by not taking action, you are tacitly approving the employee’s misconduct. For example, if your employee has been using your telephone for the past year and you have done nothing about it, you can’t suddenly turn around and fire her even though it is a dismissible offence because you have condoned the practice over a long period of time.

Where there has been a breach of contract or the employee is failing to satisfy your requirements, it is important to hold a disciplinary hearing before taking any disciplinary action. You must inform the employee of the disciplinary hearing, in writing, at least 48 hours in advance and allow them to bring a representative should they desire. It is a good idea to have a witness present, be it your spouse, a friend or neighbour. You need to get the employee to sign that they have received the notification. Should they refuse to sign, then simply write a statement to that effect and have a witness sign the notification to that effect. Keep a copy for yourself and give one to the employee.

You may not make up your mind in advance as to the nature of the disciplinary action (if any) that will be taken. (e.g “I’m going to fire you for this!”). Should the misconduct be severe; you may suspend the employee with immediate effect (this is suspension with pay) until the disciplinary hearing is over.

At the disciplinary hearing, you need to keep cool, calm and rational! Do not lose your temper or shout! Again, try to have a witness present. Write everything down verbatim at the Disciplinary Hearing. Keep the questions related to the offence at hand; if you’re discussing an issue of theft, bringing punctuality issues into the hearing is pointless and counter-productive. Remember evidence must be substantiated. (e.g. It’s not enough to state that someone was drunk on duty – you need breathalyser evidence)

After hearing all evidence, the hearing must be adjourned so that you can have an opportunity to deliberate and consider the evidence given. Take at least 30 minutes to review what has been said. Call your partner and ask for their input. Once you have decided on the disciplinary action to take, resume the hearing and deliver the judgment, describing the rationale behind it.

The hearing is now concluded. All judgments (ie verbal warning, written warning or notice of dismissal) must be put in writing and signed by both parties. Where the employee refuses to sign, write a statement to that effect and sign it and have the witness sign as well. Keep all your notes.

In order to dismiss someone, you have to be substantively as well as procedurally correct. The above sets out the necessary procedure and to ignore it could prove costly. Keep notes about all discrepancies and issues of misconduct so that you have proof. Take action when the misconduct occurs. Follow the law. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act is weighted in favour of the employee because the balance of power tips towards the employer. If you don’t follow procedure – you can be in for a costly battle. If you find your employee stealing from you and fire them straight off without following procedure you would be liable for paying them up to a year’s salary! Many employees go to the CCMA as a matter of course, but if you have followed procedure, you should be fine.