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HR 101 – What is Dereliction of Duty?

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Please note that this pertains to South African Labour Relations and Best Practice requirements

The Collins Concise Dictionary defines ‘dereliction’ as “conscious or wilful neglect” (especially of duty), whilst the Dictionary of English Synonyms lists the synonyms as ‘abandonment’ and ‘desertion’. The meaning, therefore, is very clear – it is when an employee intentionally or on purpose if you will, does not perform their tasks or duties. There are no ‘accidents’ or ‘mistakes’ here – this is deliberate.

Many employers, when charging an employee for some misdemeanour or another, use the incorrect terminology and the term “Dereliction of Duties” has a great ominous and serious connotation to it. This coupled with the fact that it is a dismissible offence, even for the first offence, often makes it a great tool for frightening the hell out of the staff.

Employers – you need to be careful here as charging for the incorrect offence (or even wording the charges incorrectly for that matter) will result in a “not guilty” verdict for the employee!

Let’s have a look at some examples of what can be termed as ‘Dereliction of Duties’.

– When an employee completely ignores the client they are supposed to be serving, in order to complete the cell phone discussion that they are having with a friend.

– When the security guard leaves his post to go home early (or any time for that matter), without a valid reason.

– When a staff member gives the keys to the safe or passwords of the alarms to an unauthorized colleague so that they can have an extended lunch or go home early.
– When an employee leaves the company truck, heavily laden with products, in a dodgy part of town whilst he takes his lady of the moment to the movies.

– When a machine operator switches off all the safety devices on all the machines that are operated by everyone other than him.

– When an employee downloads porn from a site that he knows is full of viruses.

Pretty standard stuff, I am sure you will agree although I am equally sure that you now understand the difference between not doing (or doing for that matter) something by accident and doing something that is planned, intended or deliberate.

Clearly then ‘dereliction of duties’ should not be used in instances that have arisen due to misunderstandings or miscommunication or because the staff member lacks adequate skills or if machinery is faulty or not correctly maintained.

The punishment has to fit the crime and the crime needs to be correctly identified. Charges that are incorrect will usually be thrown out and the employee is found “not guilty”.

Again clearly, it is in your own best interests as an employer to ensure that you get the correct outcome by keeping your emotions in check and dealing with, or presenting the facts calmly and confidently is always a good thing.

To ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them as well as what the consequences are, if the boundaries are breached, to ensure that you have proper policies and procedures in place and that your line managers (and of course yourself) are properly trained to ensure that discipline and controls are maintained.

Finally, make sure that all contraventions to laid down procedures are properly and calmly investigated and that the correct, legally applicable charges and therefore the correct wording is used to prevent additional losses to the company in the form of penalties levied against the employer.