How Many Warnings Before Dismissal

How Many Warnings Before Dismissal in South Africa?

Dismissal from employment can be a daunting and stressful experience for any employee. However, in South Africa, there are laws put in place to protect both employers and employees throughout the employment relationship. These laws outline the process that must be followed before an employee can be dismissed, which often includes a series of warnings.

Understanding the South African Labor Laws

In South Africa, the relationship between employers and employees is governed by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and the Labour Relations Act (LRA). These laws provide guidelines on various aspects of the employment relationship, including disciplinary procedures and dismissals.

When it comes to dismissals, the LRA requires employers to follow a fair procedure and have a valid reason for terminating an employee’s contract. This means that employers must provide employees with warnings before resorting to dismissal in most cases.

The Purpose of Warnings

Warnings are essentially a way for employers to address and rectify any misconduct or poor performance issues before considering dismissal. They serve as an opportunity for employees to understand their shortcomings and improve their behavior or performance. Warnings also give employees a chance to clarify any misunderstandings or present their side of the story.

The number of warnings an employee receives before dismissal depends on the nature and severity of the misconduct or poor performance. Generally, employers follow a progressive discipline approach, which means that the number of warnings will increase if the employee’s behavior or performance does not improve.

How Many Warnings Before Dismissal

Verbal Warnings

A verbal warning is often the first step in the progressive discipline process. It is an informal discussion between the employer and employee, where the employer communicates their concerns and expectations. Verbal warnings are typically not recorded but serve as a way to initiate a dialogue and address the issue.

If the employee fails to improve after a verbal warning, the employer may move on to more formal written warnings.

Written Warnings

A written warning is a more formal form of disciplinary action. It is a written document outlining the concerns, the expected improvements, and the consequences of further misconduct or poor performance. A written warning is usually kept on the employee’s record for a specific period, typically six to twelve months.

If the employee continues with the unacceptable behavior or performance, further written warnings will be issued, escalating the disciplinary process.

Final Written Warning

A final written warning is the last step before dismissal. It is a serious warning that emphasizes the consequences of any future misconduct or poor performance. Employers must provide the employee with a fair opportunity to respond and present their side of the story. This is usually done through a disciplinary hearing.

After issuing a final written warning, the employer must also provide support and guidance to help the employee improve their behavior or performance. This can include mentoring, training, or counseling.

Summary Dismissal

In some cases, an employer may dismiss an employee without providing any warnings. This is known as summary dismissal and is only permissible in cases of serious misconduct, such as theft, fraud, or violence in the workplace. The employer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the employee’s misconduct warrants immediate termination.

Challenging Dismissals

If an employee believes that their dismissal was unfair or not in accordance with the labor laws, they have the right to challenge it. They can do this by referring the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) or a relevant bargaining council. These organizations will assess the fairness of the dismissal and may order reinstatement or compensation if the employee’s rights were violated.


When it comes to dismissals in South Africa, employers must navigate the labor laws and follow a fair procedure. Warnings play a crucial role in the dismissal process, providing employees with opportunities to rectify their behavior or performance. Understanding the number of warnings required and the steps involved can help both employers and employees navigate this often challenging process.