Long service does not necessarily assist an employee in disciplinary matters.
In the case before the Labour Appeal Court (case no. DA4/2012), reported last year, the court found that it could not reverse the decision of the employer to dismiss an employee who reversed a bank charge of R63.00 on his account (even though he had been incorrectly charged twice by the bank).
The employee worked at FNB and disregarded a written rule that he should not conduct such activities on his own account without authorisation.
The main point we wish to make is that long service does not necessarily assist an employee. On the contrary, long service should mean that the employee has had ample time to learn the rules of the company and should be able to distinguish between the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do.
Dismissal is appropriate, despite long service, if the misconduct involves dishonesty or a breach of an important rule. This is true regardless of the amount stolen or the value of the item. Employers that do not dismiss for theft or similar misconduct may well find that this will come back to bite them later on. Whether the theft is a few beers from the company’s fridge, or milk from the canteen or petty cash, employers are advised not to shrink back from dismissal. If you do not fire employee A for theft and you fire employee B for theft, employee B can say that you have been inconsistent.
Yes, there is a human element to such things and sympathy (even mercy) might find application but watch out – feeling sorry for someone, or being “soft”, might well strike you down, without mercy, in due course.