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Learn how to handle disciplinary situations effectively on your dairy farm. The disciplinary process involves addressing misconduct or poor performance in a fair and reasonable manner. Seek advice, conduct thorough investigations, and maintain good records. The most common form of disciplinary action is a warning, but dismissal may be necessary in serious cases. Remember to act in good faith, follow a fair process, and communicate openly. Understand what constitutes serious misconduct and consider alternatives before dismissal. Employees can raise personal grievances if they feel unjustly treated. Develop a performance management process and a code of conduct for a positive workplace culture.
The disciplinary process is about following a fair and reasonable process with your employee to try to correct misconduct or poor performance in an employee.
Occasionally the behaviour will be serious enough to warrant disciplinary action or dismissal.
Serious misconduct involves offences that are very serious in nature and may even involve breaking the law. It covers situations where an employee’s behaviour is such that you feel threatened, unsafe or the act results in a deeply impaired trust of the person. Common examples include theft, assault, bullying, harassment, serious breaches of health and safety, using drugs or alcohol at work and wilfully damaging property and equipment.
Learn more about disciplinary procedures. Remember that at all times you are required to follow a fair process.
It is a good idea to develop a code of conduct for your farm, providing examples of misconduct and serious misconduct. Make it clear that this list is not definitive but rather a general guide. A code of conduct is a useful tool when dealing with misconduct problems as it provides clarity to everyone about what’s considered unacceptable behaviour on the farm.
Bear in mind that any such list needs to be fair and reasonable. Some employment agreements or codes of conduct contain a long list of serious misconduct behaviours. In a disciplinary situation, you must have regard to the actual nature of the offence, the surrounding circumstances and the employee’s explanation. An offence is not necessarily serious misconduct just because it’s on a list. An offence can only be deemed to be serious misconduct if it genuinely and deeply undermines your trust and confidence in the employee.
Giving quality feedback is effective in managing poor performance especially if you get onto it early.
Find out more about the disciplinary procedure options available to you and how to follow a fair process during disciplinary situations.
See Employment New Zealand: Employment relations: employment agreements: trial period for more information.
Good performance management can help prevent the need for disciplinary situations as expectations are discussed regularly and many issues are dealt with at an early stage.
The ability to dismiss an employee will depend on the circumstances of the case. Of particular importance is what it means to no longer fulfil the requirements of the job. Is the employee unable to work at all? Or can they work but no longer fulfil certain requirements of the job? How essential are these requirements?
Injury or illness
The most common reason for this type of situation is illness or injury. If the employee is off work for a prolonged period of time, there comes a point where you can decide to dismiss the employee. Dismissal is a serious action to take and is subject to stringent requirements. You must be able to justify any such decision both substantively (you had a good reason) and procedurally (you followed a fair process). The nature of the illness or injury, its duration and prognosis for the future, are all important considerations. Please seek legal advice before taking any action and read further information here.
Reduced or lite injuries
If an employee can work but cannot fulfil certain duties (e.g. no lifting or bending), it is less likely that dismissal will be justifiable. It does depend on the situation of course - how essential these particular duties are to the job as a whole, the alternatives available (e.g. whether work can be redistributed or whether machinery/equipment can be used to assist), how long the employee cannot fulfil these duties and any other relevant factors.
Other, e.g. loss of licence
Sometimes an employee is unable to fulfil the requirements of the job for other reasons e.g. an employee who has lost their driver’s licence when driving on open roads is a key requirement of the job. An employer and employee should work through such problems in good faith. An employer should never rush into any decision to dismiss an employee, but should consider the reasonable alternatives available. In this particular example, the employee may be able to apply for a limited licence. Always seek advice from your lawyer or employer’s association before taking action.
Communication is the key to solving many issues in the workplace. Address problems early through open and honest communication.
The first step is to determine what actually happened through reviewing physical evidence, speaking to witnesses and the employee’s supervisor. You may also need to speak with the employee - warn the employee that the incident may constitute misconduct and what they say could be relevant in a disciplinary process later on.
You then need to decide whether to move on to a formal disciplinary process, or whether the situation could be better resolved through other means (e.g. training). Please seek advice from your lawyer or Farm People Management Consultant before embarking on any disciplinary process.
At all times, you are required to act in good faith. This includes communicating openly and honestly and conducting a full and fair investigation. If you do decide on taking disciplinary action (e.g. a warning or in serious cases, dismissal), it needs to be justifiable. This means there was a genuine work-related reason for taking disciplinary action, that you genuinely and reasonably believed that such action was required and that you followed a fair process in reaching and implementing this decision.
Learn more about disciplinary procedures and investigating misconduct. You are required to act in good faith and follow a fair process during disciplinary situations.
Thinking ahead to the future, it’s a good idea to develop a code of conduct for your workplace. This clearly sets out expected behaviour on the farm and provides clarity on what’s considered unacceptable behaviour.
An employee can pursue a personal grievance against their employer under the Employment Relations Act. They can be raised on the following grounds:
The personal grievance must be raised within 90 days of the grievance occurring or coming to the employee’s attention. In a limited number of situations, a grievance can be raised outside this time frame.
If the employee and employer cannot resolve the matter themselves, they can use the free mediation service provided by the Department of Labour (Employment New Zealand). This service is available to assist employers and employees to work through problems. If this is unsuccessful, then either party can apply to the Employment Relations Authority for a determination.
In the case of dismissal, this means that an employee can raise a personal grievance if they feel that 1) the employer did not have a genuine work-related reason for deciding to dismiss them and/or 2) the employer did not follow a fair process in arriving at and implementing the decision. A robust disciplinary process and good records are the best defence in this situation.
Read further on disciplinary procedures and investigating misconduct. You are required to act in good faith and follow a fair process during disciplinary situations.
Different rules apply during a trial period. An employer and employee may agree to a 90-day trial period as part of the employment agreement. If an employee is dismissed during this period, they cannot take a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal against the employer.
Visit Employment New Zealand's website for more details on trial periods.