Can you legally terminate an employee for committing a ‘minor’ mistake?

Mistakes in the workplace are unavoidable but to what point is it justifiable as a cause for dismissal?

Can you legally terminate an employee for committing a ‘minor’ mistake?

Employees are bound to make mistakes in the workplace, but can companies legally fire an employee for committing ‘minor’ ones?

“A ‘minor mistake’ is not a term of art,” explained Celeste Ang, principal at Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow.
“What constitutes a ‘minor mistake’ in the context of an employee performing his / her duties and responsibilities would have to be assessed in the context of each organisation and the nature of work and circumstances of each employee in question.”

Each company may have their own definition of what constitutes a ‘minor mistake’ and would dole out reprimands based on the severity of the mistake.

If you are thinking of firing the erring employee, Ang cautioned that “an employer generally has to cross a high threshold proving misconduct justifying summary dismissal". 

She added that employers would have a difficult time justifying the need to let go of an employee if the error was an isolated incident. 

However, should the employee persist in committing similar mistakes, that may be sufficient grounds for termination, she said.

“It is a question of fact in each case as to whether the conduct an employee is sufficient to justify summary dismissal.” 

Ang further warned employers to tread carefully in dealing with such matters as “the burden of proof is upon the employer to show cause for termination or for the taking of any disciplinary action”.

“If disciplinary action is wrongfully taken, an employee may be able to argue that there is a breach of his/her employment contract and/or that he/she was constructively dismissed,” she said. 

To avoid that from happening, companies should “ensure that its disciplinary polices (if any) are adhered to and the grounds constituting cause are properly documented,” she concluded.

Celeste Ang will be speaking at the upcoming HR Leaders Asia 2016 on the complex requirements HR has to fulfil in legally terminating employees. 

Click here to find out more about the event and to secure tickets. 


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