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Discplinary procedures for academic staff

Introduction | Informal disciplinary action | Initiating formal disciplinary action | Formal disciplinary action: Minor misconduct |
Formal disciplinary action: Serious misconduct | Appendix A | Appendix B

  1. Introduction
    1. A staff member is required to maintain good conduct. Some requirements of good conduct are listed in Appendix A.
    2. A staff member who fails to maintain good conduct is liable to disciplinary action. Some notes and guidelines are given in Appendix B.
    3. The objective of discipline and the disciplinary procedure is to secure good conduct. The disciplinary procedure is designed:
      1. to correct misconduct and to provide a sanction for misconduct (the objective of sanction is to prevent further misconduct and/or correct misconduct); or
      2. to provide for dismissal where the employment relationship has broken down.
    4. Questions of discipline affecting members of academic staff should be approached in a collegial manner.
    5. As far as reasonably possible, the privacy of the individual will be observed. The Head of Department (HOD) and Dean will, however, be informed of the intention to take any proceedings, and the outcome of the proceedings. Further publication will be at the discretion of the Vice Chancellor.
    6. It is part of the role of the HOD to deal with misconduct in his/her Department. In fulfilling this role, he/she shall refer the matter to one of the 3 possible levels (described in g) at which disciplinary action may be taken, the appropriate level being determined by the severity of the alleged misconduct.
    7. These procedures shall provide for 3 possible levels at which disciplinary action may be taken.
      1. The Head of Department: for informal action in isolated instances of minor misconduct (see paragraph 2 below)
      2. The Selected Faculty Authority (SFA): for formal disciplinary action in instances of minor misconduct. (Each Faculty has the flexibility to site this responsibility in the Head of Department, in the Head of cognate Department, in a standing tribunal for the Faculty of one or more members of staff, or in the Dean of the Faculty, the last possibility being appropriate in some small faculties.)
      3. A Committee of Inquiry: for formal disciplinary action in instances of serious misconduct.
    8. Through these procedures, wherever the HOD is referred to, read Dean if the staff member charged with alleged misconduct is a HOD, and read Deputy Vice Chancellor if the staff member is a Dean.
    9. The existence of these procedures does not in any way limit the right of the University to initiate criminal or civil action against a member of staff.
  2. Informal disciplinary action
    1. The HOD should address any isolated case of minor misconduct by counselling the staff member or issuing an oral warning.
    2. The HOD shall keep a record of all such action, and shall give the member of staff a copy of any record; the staff member and the HOD shall sign both copies of this record.

      Because this action would be informal, any such record will not form part of his/her employment record, and will not be kept on the staff member's personal file (that is, the formal staff record kept on each staff member by the Executive Director, Human Resources in the Human Resources Department).

      Such records will, however, be admissible in subsequent formal proceedings.

  3. Initiating formal disciplinary action
    1. Any allegation of misconduct which involves a member of the academic staff is to be reported to the staff member's HOD or the Vice Chancellor.
    2. If the HOD receives the allegation and considers that it is an allegation of minor misconduct, the HOD shall deal with the matter as per paragraph 2, or refer the matter for formal disciplinary action to the authority selected by his/her faculty for addressing minor misconduct; if he/she considers that the allegation is one of serious misconduct, he/she shall refer the allegation to the Vice Chancellor.

      If the Vice Chancellor receives the allegation and considers that it is an allegation of minor misconduct he/she shall refer it to the HOD or the Selected Faculty Authority; if he/she considers that the allegation is one of serious misconduct, he/she shall refer the matter for investigation to a Preliminary Investigating Committee and shall inform the staff member(s) concerned of both the allegation and his/her decision.

  4. Formal disciplinary action: Minor misconduct

    The Selected Faculty Authority (HOD, cognate HOD, standing tribunal or Dean) shall have formal disciplinary powers over academic staff for minor misconduct. The procedure is intended to be simple and fair. Some basic requirements of procedural fairness are set out below.

    1. Investigation

      Formal action shall not be taken without prima facie evidence of misconduct. An investigation may be necessary to establish such evidence.

      The Head of Department may handle or arrange any necessary investigation within the department for minor misconduct, or ask the administration to assist with this investigation. If prima facie evidence of misconduct exists, a disciplinary inquiry is required.

    2. The formal disciplinary inquiry: Minor misconduct
      1. Preliminaries
        • Prior to a formal disciplinary inquiry by the SFA, the staff member shall be notified in advance, in writing, of the time and place of the hearing, and the substance of the allegation(s) against him/her.
        • Such notice period shall be sufficient to enable the staff member to prepare his/her case.
        • The staff member shall be informed that he/she has the right to be assisted or represented at the inquiry by a member of staff.
        • If the representative of the staff member's choice is not available, and if sufficient notice of the inquiry has been given, the staff member may choose another representative.
        • A staff member who decides not to be represented, may at any stage change such a decision provided that this shall not unduly delay the process of the inquiry.
      2. The inquiry: The role of the SFA

        The SFA shall approach the inquiry with an open and unbiased mind. Any SFA or member of an SFA who believes that he/she will be unable to approach the inquiry with an open and unbiased mind, shall recuse himself/herself.

        The member of staff (against whom the allegation has been made) may challenge the impartiality of any member(s) of the SFA. If, in the opinion of the SFA, good cause is shown why the SFA, or any member(s) of it, should recuse herself/himself/themselves, he/she/they shall do so.

        Where a member of the SFA recuses himself/herself, the Dean shall appoint an alternate. If the Dean is the only member of the SFA, the Vice Chancellor shall appoint an alternate.

      3. The inquiry: The process
        • The inquiry shall be divided into two parts:
          • Consideration of the evidence and whether the member of staff is guilty of misconduct as charged; and

            Where a finding of guilty is reached, the inquiry shall proceed to

          • Consideration of any aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and the sanction.
        • The inquiry may consist only of the SFA and the staff member. If the staff member elects to bring a representative, the SFA may decide to have another senior staff member or a member of the Human Resources Department present, the role of this second person being limited to advice (e.g. procedural advice).
        • The Chair of the SFA shall keep a brief written record, noting the charges, the salient facts put before it, the finding, evidence in mitigation or aggravation, and the sentence.
        • The name of the staff member's representative shall be recorded in the Inquiry Report. If a staff member does not wish to be represented, this shall be recorded in the Inquiry Report.
        • The staff member and his/her representative may be present throughout the hearing.
        • The staff member and his/her representative may question the witnesses, call other witnesses, question any documentary evidence, and submit documentary evidence.
        • Where practicable, the evidence against the staff member shall be presented by persons who have first hand knowledge of the facts to which they testify.
        • Upon request and if the circumstances warrant this, the SFA may give a witness permission to be accompanied by a support person (e.g. in a harassment case).
        • The failure of the staff member without valid and sufficient reason to be present at the hearing, either personally or through a representative, shall not invalidate the proceedings. The hearing may then take place in the absence of the staff member and the record will reflect this.
        • In considering the case, the SFA shall hear and take account of all relevant evidence and argument and make a finding, on a balance of probabilities, on the allegation against the member of staff.
        • If the evidence does not support the allegation, the inquiry shall be closed and the staff member acquitted of the allegation. Where a finding of guilty is reached, the staff member shall be informed and the inquiry shall proceed to the stage of determining the sanction.
        • The staff member and his/her representative shall be given the opportunity to lead evidence in mitigation. Evidence of aggravating circumstances may also be led at this stage.
        • The SFA shall decide on the appropriate sanction at the end of the inquiry, and shall inform the staff member and his/her representative of this in writing as soon as possible.
        • The SFA shall make a report of the salient points of the inquiry. A copy of the report shall be given to the staff member or his/her representative.
      4. Possible Sanction
        • The SFA shall decide on the sanction.
        • The sanction imposed depends on:
          • the seriousness of the misconduct; and
          • mitigating and/or aggravating circumstances.
        • The sanction imposed may be one of the following:
          • reprimand/oral warning;
          • written warning; or
          • final written warning.

          Note: As dismissal is not within the jurisdiction of the SFA, if it becomes apparent in the course of the inquiry that the misconduct is serious, the SFA shall suspend the inquiry and refer the matter to the VC.

      5. Appeal against a decision of a SFA
        1. A staff member has the right, either personally or through his/her representative, to appeal against any formal disciplinary finding or sanction.
        2. If a Head of Department or Faculty tribunal imposed the sanction the staff member may appeal to the Dean.

          If a Dean imposed the sanction the staff member may appeal to the Vice-Chancellor who shall in turn nominate a Deputy Vice-Chancellor to hear the appeal.

        3. An appeal must be lodged in writing within seven (7) days of the disciplinary action being notified to the staff member in writing.
        4. The bases for appealing against the finding and/or sanction must be stated in the notice of appeal.
        5. No person involved in the original inquiry or investigation shall hear the appeal.
        6. Unless substantial injustice would otherwise result, an appeal shall be heard on the record and any additional argument which either party may choose to present.
        7. The person or the committee hearing the appeal shall consider both procedural and substantive questions, and shall make a finding on
          • the finding and the sanction, where the appeal is against both, or
          • sanction only, where the appeal is against sanction only.
  5. Formal disciplinary action: Serious misconduct
    1. The investigation: Preliminary Investigating Committee (PIC)

      Formal action must not be taken without prima facie evidence of misconduct. Where the Vice Chancellor believes that there is an allegation of serious misconduct which requires formal investigation he/she must appoint a Preliminary Investigating Committee (PIC) to consider the allegation. The function of a PIC is to determine whether there is prima facie evidence for a charge, and if there is, to formulate a charge. The PIC will not necessarily hear, or assess, the evidence. Having established a charge, the PIC or its nominee may negotiate a settlement of the matter with the staff member concerned if the staff member initiates such a process.

      1. Composition of the PIC

        The PIC consists of:
        • a Deputy Vice-Chancellor appointed by the Vice Chancellor (Chair);
        • the Head of Department or Dean or Head of a cognate department chosen by the Vice Chancellor;
        • a member of the academic staff who has been confirmed in his/her appointment, with a qualification in law, chosen by the Vice Chancellor; and
        • a person chosen by the staff member(s) concerned from the available members of the Senate panel of twelve.

          Note: A panel of twelve academic staff must be selected biennially by Senate to serve on PICs and COIs. One third of the panel must be of professorial rank, and two thirds of the panel must be below that rank. The composition of the panel should reflect racial and gender diversity.

      2. Quorum

        The quorum for a PIC is three members.

      3. The process of the PIC
        • The members of the PIC shall approach the inquiry with open and unbiased minds. A member of a PIC who believes that he/she will be unable to approach the inquiry with an open and unbiased mind shall recuse himself/herself.

          The member of staff against whom the allegation has been made may challenge the impartiality of any member of the PIC. If, in the opinion of the Chair of the PIC, good cause is shown why any member, or members, of the PIC, including the Chair, should recuse himself/herself/themselves, the Chair shall rule that he/she/they shall recuse himself/herself/themselves.

          The Vice Chancellor shall replace any member who recuses himself or herself at the start of proceedings.

          The Vice Chancellor may replace a member who recuses himself or herself during the inquiry, but shall not be obliged to do so provided a quorum remains. Where a member is replaced during the inquiry the proceedings shall start afresh.

        • The Vice Chancellor may appoint a person to present the case before the PIC. The Executive Director, Human Resources may appoint a person to service the PIC.
        • The Chair of the PIC shall keep or be responsible for ensuring that a brief written record is kept.
        • A member of staff may be represented at the PIC by another member of staff.
        • The staff member and his/her representative may be present throughout the hearing.
        • The staff member and his/her representative may question the witnesses, call other witnesses, question any documentary evidence, and submit documentary evidence.
        • Where practicable, the evidence against the staff member shall be presented by persons who have first hand knowledge of the facts to which they testify.
        • Upon request, and if the circumstances warrant this, the Chair of the PIC may give a witness permission to be accompanied by a support person (e.g. in a harassment case).
        • The failure of the staff member without valid and sufficient reason to be present at the PIC, either personally or through a representative, shall not invalidate the proceedings. The preliminary investigation may then take place in the absence of the staff member and the record will reflect this.
      4. Time limits

        A PIC shall complete its enquiry and render its decision within one month of the date on which the Vice Chancellor appointed it, provided that the Vice Chancellor may extend this by up to one month where the PIC, with the agreement of the staff member, asks for an extension.

      5. Action

        The Preliminary Investigating Committee shall:

        • dismiss the allegation; or
        • refer a case to the Vice Chancellor for consideration by a Committee of Inquiry (see paragraph 5.3), in which instance the PIC will formulate the charge(s); or
        • upon terms agreed to by the PIC and the staff member, terminate the staff member's appointment or take some other agreed action.
      6. Suspension
        1. If the Vice Chancellor has reason to believe that it would be in the interests of the University for the member of staff to be suspended immediately from some or all of his/her duties and not to enter any premises that may be under the control of the University, the Vice Chancellor may, after having referred the allegation against the member of staff to the PIC, suspend him/her from some or all of his/her duties and may order him/her not to enter all or any premises under the control of the University until the PIC dismisses the allegation or determines the matter upon agreed terms, or until the COI makes known its decision or the Vice Chancellor or the Council's standing tribunal lifts the order. A member who is suspended shall at all times be entitled to receive all salary and benefits to which he or she is entitled as a member of staff.
        2. A member of staff who is suspended is entitled to a hearing by the Vice Chancellor within 72 hours of the suspension order being made.
        3. After hearing the staff member the Vice Chancellor will have the discretion to confirm, vary or withdraw the suspension order.
    2. Committee of Inquiry (COI)
      1. Preliminaries
        • Prior to a COI, the staff member shall be notified in advance, in writing, of the time and place of the hearing, and the substance of the allegation(s) against him/her.
        • Such notice period shall be sufficient to enable the staff member to prepare his/her case.
        • The staff member shall be informed that he/she has the right to be assisted or represented at the inquiry. Any form of representation is permitted at a COI at the staff member's expense.
        • If the representative of the staff member's choice is not available, and if sufficient notice of the inquiry has been given, the staff member is required to choose another representative.
        • A staff member who decides not to be represented, may at any stage change such a decision provided that this shall not unduly delay the process of the COI.
      2. Composition of the Committee of Inquiry

        A Committee of Inquiry (COI) has disciplinary powers over academic staff for serious misconduct or where disciplinary action taken at the faculty level has failed to correct misconduct.

        The Committee of Inquiry consists of:

        • the Vice-Chancellor or his/her nominee (the Chair);
        • a member of the academic staff who has been confirmed in his/her appointment, with a qualification in law, chosen by the Vice Chancellor;
        • a person chosen by the Vice Chancellor from the Senate panel of twelve;

          (Note: A panel of twelve academic staff must be selected biennially by Senate to serve on PICs and COIs. One third of the panel must be of professorial rank, and two thirds of the panel must be below that rank. The composition of the panel should reflect racial and gender diversity.);

        • and, at the request of the Vice Chancellor and/or the staff member, but appointed by the COI, one person with relevant expertise (eg a medico-legal expert.).

          The members of the Committee of Inquiry shall approach the inquiry with open and unbiased minds.

          No member of the PIC that referred a case to the Vice Chancellor for consideration by a COI should be a member of the COI subequently chosen by the Vice Chancellor.

          Any member of the COI who believes that he/she will be unable to approach the inquiry with an open and unbiased mind, shall recuse himself/herself.

          The member of staff against whom the allegation has been made may challenge the impartiality of any member(s) of the COI. If, in the opinion of the Chair of the COI, good cause is shown why any member or members of the Committee, including the Chair, should recuse him/herself or themselves, the Chair shall rule that she/he or they shall recuse himself/herself/themselves.

          Where a member of a COI recuses himself/herself at the start of proceedings, the Vice Chancellor shall replace the member.

          The Vice Chancellor may replace a member who recuses himself or herself during the inquiry, but shall not be obliged to do so provided a quorum remains. Where a member is replaced during the inquiry the proceedings shall start afresh.

      3. Quorum

        The quorum for a COI is three members.

      4. Committee of Inquiry: The process
        • The inquiry shall be divided into two parts:
          • Consideration of the evidence and whether the member of staff is guilty of misconduct as charged; and

            Where it reaches a finding of guilty, the COI shall thereafter proceed to

          • Consideration of any aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and the sanction.
        • The Vice Chancellor may appoint a person to present the case against the member of staff before the Committee of Inquiry. This may be the same person who has presented the case before the PIC. The Executive Director, Human Resources may appoint a person to service the COI.
        • The Chair of the COI is responsible for keeping or ensuring that a record of the salient points is kept. However, if the staff member or any member of the COI wants the proceedings to be audio-taped, steps must be taken to do so.
        • The name of the staff member's representative must be recorded in the Inquiry Report. If a staff member does not wish to be represented, this must be recorded in the Inquiry Report.
        • The staff member and his/her representative may be present throughout the hearing.
        • The staff member and his/her representative may question the witnesses, call other witnesses, question any documentary evidence, and submit documentary evidence.
        • Where practicable, the evidence against the staff member shall be presented by persons who have first hand knowledge of the facts to which they testify.
        • Upon request, and if the circumstances warrant this, the COI may give a witness permission to be accompanied by a support person (e.g. in a harassment case).
        • The failure of the staff member without valid and sufficient reason to be present at the COI, either personally or through a representative, shall not invalidate the proceedings. The COI may then take place in the absence of the staff member and the record will reflect this.
        • In considering the case, the COI shall hear and take account of all relevant evidence and argument and make a finding, on a balance of probabilities, on the allegation against the member of staff.
        • If the evidence does not support the allegation, the inquiry shall be closed and the staff member acquitted of the allegation. Where a finding of guilty is reached, the staff member shall be informed and the inquiry shall proceed to the stage of determining sanction.
        • The staff member and his/her representative shall be given the opportunity to lead evidence in mitigation. Evidence of aggravating circumstances may also be led at this stage.
        • The COI shall decide on the appropriate sanction at the end of the inquiry, and must inform the staff member and his/her representative of this in writing as soon as possible.
        • The Chair of the COI shall make a report of the proceedings. A copy of the report and recording/s (if the inquiry was recorded and if so requested) shall be given to the staff member or his/her representative. Only if a transcript has been made of any portions of the recording/s shall this be given to the member of staff; the member of staff will have no right to require a transcript of any recording or recordings which has or have not been transcribed.
      5. Possible sanctions:
        • The Committee of Inquiry shall decide on the sanction.
        • The sanction imposed depends on:
          • the seriousness of the misconduct; and
          • mitigating and/or aggravating circumstances.
        • Formal disciplinary action may include one of the following:
          • reprimand/oral warning;
          • written warning;
          • final written warning;
          • dismissal with notice; or
          • summary dismissal.
        • If the misconduct warrants dismissal and the COI decides upon dismissal but considers an alternative to dismissal acceptable, the COI may offer an alternative. If the offer is accepted by the staff member it shall apply. If the alternative is refused by the staff member, the dismissal shall stand. (Examples of such alternatives are: suspension without pay, demotion, transfer or any combination of these.)

      Note: Misconduct is not the same as poor performance. For example, poor teaching and poor research will usually be instances of poor performance, and need to be addressed through different procedures. A separate procedure for addressing poor performance will be developed.


Appendix A

A staff member is required to maintain good conduct. Some requirements of good conduct are that he or she must:

  1. discharge departmental duties diligently;
  2. abide by University rules;
  3. conduct himself/herself with honesty and integrity;
  4. not contravene the University's policies on sexual and/or racial harassment;
  5. not bring to, or house or use on University property any firearm, dangerous weapon or mock weapon (without prior written permission from the Executive Director, Human Resources); and
  6. not knowingly disclose confidential information.*

* Note on Confidential Information:

In general, university business is open. Privacy and confidence are, however, sometimes necessary and in such cases must be observed. The following are categories of business and information that are confidential and must be restricted on a need-to-know basis. This list is not exhaustive.

  1. Examination question papers;
  2. Confidential referees reports;
  3. Business information where the University's financial interests depend upon this e.g. proposed property acquisition, or negotiating positions;
  4. Research results where a patent application has been made, or is to be made;
  5. Donor information, when a donor requires anonymity; or
  6. Private information on individuals (e.g. staff medical reports), unless the individual has placed this in the public domain.

Appendix B

Some explanatory notes on misconduct

  1. The appropriate procedure
    1. Minor misconduct
      • Informal action (HOD)
      • Formal action (Selected Faculty Authority)
    2. Serious misconduct
      • Formal action (PCI and COI)
  2. Minor misconduct may become serious misconduct if repeated, especially if corrective action fails (i.e. the staff member has already been warned, but he/she repeats the misconduct.)
  3. Serious misconduct may result in a serious sanction such as dismissal even if there are no prior warnings.
  4. A decision on the seriousness of any particular misconduct requires the exercise of judgement. The action cannot be isolated from the context and therefore one cannot specify in a procedure like this what sanction is appropriate for what misconduct.
  5. A Head of Department who is concerned about whether an allegation of misconduct should be considered "minor" or "serious" may contact his or her Dean, other Heads of Department or the Employee Relations section of the Human Resources Department for advice and/or information on UCT precedent.

Policy updated on 06 May 2005

Page last updated: 20 November 2013