As far afield as President Obama’s “Land of the Free” employees are being laid off and factories and businesses are closing shop due to the global economic meltdown.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 18 million people worldwide will lose their jobs under the most optimistic scenario this year – although they believe the true number to be closer to 30 million.

With this in mind, it is probably fair to state that sales and account executives are currently under extreme pressure. It is therefore very important for them to perform to the required standard.

A clearly shaken father of two, who have been feeling the pinch at work lately, recently approached me with an interesting, albeit alarming, set of facts.

Having missed his sales target for three consecutive months, he was called in by the sales manager who threatened to dismiss him if he didn’t reach his target in each of the following three months.

He has been working for the company for eight months and has never received proper training – a request he has often put forward to management.

Schedule 8 of the Code of Good Conduct of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) deals with poor work performance in item 9.

It states that when an employer needs to determine the grounds for dismissal based on poor work performance, it has to be established whether or not the employee failed to meet the performance standard.

With reference to schedule 8, if an employee fails to meet the required performance standard, three points need to be established:

Was he aware or could he reasonably have been expected to be aware of the performance standard; was he given a fair opportunity to reach the performance standard; and would dismissal be the appropriate sanction?

For instance, in our reader’s scenario, if other salespeople with the same portfolios are also not reaching their targets, then there is a good chance that the expected performance standard was out of reach from the start.

Our reader says that he was unable to deliver on his employer’s expectations, because even though his clients are currently strapped for cash, his target and the company’s prices have been increased in an attempt to boost turnover – in other words, according to him, his target is simply unrealistic.

However, if it is found that the employee’s performance standard is in fact below par, the employer must ascertain why the employee is unable to meet it and give him a reasonable opportunity to reach the required standard.

Employers are advised to council such an employee. After the initial counselling session, the employer should call for a follow-up meeting within a reasonable time.

This will give the employer the chance to monitor the employee’s progress and will give the latter the opportunity to give feedback if he is still experiencing difficulties in reaching the performance standard.

I feel it is unreasonable for the employer to now expect that our reader reaches his target in each of the upcoming three months after having been unable to do so in the previous three – especially if he feels his performance standard is comparable with that of his colleagues.

Therefore I would advise him to follow his company’s internal grievance procedure to state his concerns.

If more people from the same department are in the same situation, it may be worth their while to approach management as a group to find practical solutions to the challenges.
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Wikus van Rensburg is a well-respected labour law attorney in Port Elizabeth in Nelson Mandela Bay.


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