The Public Service Commission (PSC) releases a Report on the precautionary suspension of employees in the Public Service

10 November 2011

  1. BACKGROUND

    The precautionary suspension of employees within the Public Service is one of the measures which departments can use in the course of instituting disciplinary procedures. When an employee is put on precautionary suspension, there are certain processes that must be complied with to certify that the suspension is legitimate, and that it can safeguard the interests of both the employer and employee. The employer must make certain that the precautionary suspension does not have the effect of breaching the contractual rights of an employee. The Disciplinary Code and Procedures (Resolution 2 of 1999), provides amongst others, that precautionary suspensions should be with pay and that a disciplinary hearing should be held within one month from the date when an employee is placed on suspension. However, Resolution 1 of 2003 extended the period of suspension to 60 days within which a hearing should be held. The PSC is gravely concerned about non-compliance with the prescribed 60 days for the conclusion of cases and the cost consequently incurred by the state. Accordingly, the PSC has conducted a study on the management of precautionary suspensions in the Public Service.
     

  2. KEY FINDINGS

  1. Circumstances under which employees are placed on precautionary suspensions

  1. The sampled departments indicated that officials are put on precautionary suspensions depending on the nature of the charges which are being investigated.

  2. Some of the serious charges which were laid against employees who were placed on precautionary suspension by managers in the departments included financial misconduct, failure to bank state money, gross negligence resulting in loss of state monies, drunken driving, misuse of state property, corruption, sexual harassment, unauthorised expenditure and violation of tender processes.

  1. How long do the majority of the precautionary suspensions last?

  1. The majority of the sampled departments indicated that it took up to three months, on average, to conclude an investigation, during which period employees would be on precautionary suspensions.

  2. Departments cited, as a common reason for non-compliance with the prescribed 60 days period, investigations taking too long to finalise.

  3. With regard to the review of precautionary suspensions, the PSC found that most of the sampled departments reviewed the precautionary suspensions on a bi-monthly basis. None of the sampled departments provided the PSC with evidence of control measures which were used to monitor the adherence to the timelines. Some departments indicated that they use computer systems and or manual registers to monitor precautionary suspensions.

  1. Why do precautionary suspensions last longer than 60 days?

  1. The PSC found that the complexity of the matter which may require experts to examine closely the nature and extend of misconduct may cause delays in the conclusion of the investigation.

  2. Besides the drawn out investigations, some of the reasons provided by the sampled departments for the extension of the period for precautionary suspensions during the disciplinary procedure included the following:

  • unavailability of Representatives of the employees charged with misconduct

  • witnesses not being available on dates of hearing

  • additional information requested not available at the disciplinary hearing;

  • interpreter not available

  • employee being booked off sick and

  • the recusal of the Presiding Officer.

  1. Number of employees placed under precautionary suspensions during the periods under review

  1. The PSC found that the sampled departments had placed 293 employees under precautionary suspensions, inclusive during the two periods under review.

  2. During the Financial Year 2008/2009, there were 103 employees placed under precautionary suspensions in the sampled departments, whereas in the Financial Year 2009/2010, there were 190 employees placed under precautionary suspensions, in the sampled departments.

  3. In respect of both periods, the largest numbers of employees placed under precautionary suspensions were located in the levels 1 8 who totalled 228 out of 293.

  4. The second highest was of employees at levels 9 12 totalling 46 out of 293 and the lowest numbers were in the Senior Management Service (SMS) level totalling 19 out of 293.

  1. The cost implications of the precautionary suspensions

  1. The combined amount of the remuneration paid to Public Service employees placed on precautionary suspension was more than R45 million according to the Department of Public Service and Administrations internal report on precautionary suspensions for the period 2009/2010.

  2. Eight provincial departments which were included in the PSC study indicated that for the financial years 2008/2009 and 2009/2010, a total amount of R15 513 978.84 was paid to employees who were on precautionary suspension.

  3. The two national departments which were part of the sample indicated that for the financial years 2008/2009 and 2009/2010, a total amount of R7 963 028.33 was paid to employees placed under precautionary suspension.

  4. The PSC is concerned that there was such a huge amount paid to employees who were placed on precautionary suspension before their disciplinary cases could be concluded during the two periods under review.

  1. Do departments have internal policies to sensitise employees and key role-players on the procedures relating to disciplinary procedure and precautionary suspensions?

  1. Out of the 10 sampled departments, only KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport produced a departmental policy on the management of precautionary suspensions. Other departments indicated that they relied mainly on Resolution 1 of 2003, as they regard it as providing clear guidelines on the subject.

  2. The PSC is of the view that Resolution 1 of 2003 does not elaborate enough on the procedure that should be followed when precautionary suspension is under consideration. Departmental policy on the management of precautionary suspensions / transfers would strengthen and make clear the procedure that should be followed. This is necessary to make sure that such suspensions / transfers are managed in accordance with the principles of administrative justice, natural justice and fairness.

  3. The PSC found that some of the supervisors in the provincial departments do not know the meaning of precautionary suspension.

  4. Furthermore, the PSC found that Labour Relations Officers and managers are not well trained to manage precautionary suspensions. In most instances the extension of the precautionary suspension periods are directly linked to the inadequate competency levels of Presiding Officers and Employee Representatives in the disciplinary hearings.

  1. The Role of Labour Relations Components

  1. The PSC found that not all employees who are supposed to know about disciplinary processes and measures know and understand such. Hence, the PSC is of the view that all employees, managers and juniors alike must be sensitised about disciplinary procedures.

  1. Departments challenges in the management of precautionary suspension

  1. The posts in the departments remain unoccupied for a long time pending the finalisation of cases, which is detrimental to other employees who have to take over the responsibilities and functions of the employees who are on suspension.

  2. Inadequate training contributes towards undue lengthy periods of precautionary suspensions.

  3. Poor compliance with timeframes by investigators and the Presiding Officers.

  4. The majority of sampled departments take too long to finalise investigations, which impacts on the period for the formulation of charges and ensuring that witnesses are notified timeously to attend the hearings.

  1. RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Departments must, through the assistance of the DPSA, develop their own internal departmental policies on the management of precautionary suspensions and or transfers linked to investigation of misconduct within the 2011/2012 Financial Year.

  2. All employees, managers and juniors must attend training on discipline management facilitated through the DPSA to enable compliance by departments with the applicable prescripts not later than 2012/2013 Financial Year.

  3. Each department must develop a database and profile the systematic issues that contribute towards the extension of precautionary suspensions within the 2011/2012 Financial Year.

  4. Precautionary suspensions cases must be recorded in detail and reviews must be conducted with immediate effect, on a weekly basis preferably rather than on any other interval basis as practised by most departments that participated in the study.

  5. There must be a database of capable presiding officers and investigating officers internally within departments and centrally through the DPSA and Offices of the Premier commencing from the 2011/2012 Financial Year.

  6. There should be a requirement for departments to extend the 60 days period of precautionary suspension of SMS members (including HoDs) only after consultation with the Minister for Public Service and Administration (MPSA) with effect from the 2011/2012 Financial Year.

  7. Departments must consider transfers as opposed to precautionary suspension to avoid payment of salaries to employees who are not at work.

  1. CONCLUSION

    The need to improve the management of precautionary suspensions cannot be overemphasised. The PSC calls for the prompt investigations and finalisation of cases. The longer the postponement of cases, the greater the financial losses and service delivery deficiencies incurred. Therefore, Departments need to aim at ensuring strict adherence to timeframes and work towards minimising costs relating to employees who are on precautionary suspensions.

Issued by the Public Service Commission

For enquiries, please contact:
Mr Humphrey Ramafoko; Director: Communication and Information Services; Tel: 012- 352 1196; Cell: 082 782 1730; Email: humpreyr@opsc.gov.za; Or Mr Ricardo Mahlakanya; Deputy Director: External Communication; Tel: 012 352 1070; Cell: 079 769 7955; Email: RicardoM@opsc.gov.za

 

 

 

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