No matter how good your leadership and management skills, it’s inevitable that every business will have to engage with the formalities of labour law at some point. The popular opinion among many entrepreneurs we work with is that South Africa’s labour laws are heavily stacked against the employer – and I agree with that! Yet, our labour laws are not outright ludicrous: there are ways to counter unreasonable findings against us business owners.
Outlining exactly these two points of the pro-worker bias and the undoing of that bias is an interesting case that was heard in January at the Johannesburg Labour Court. A medical logistics company had fired a sales rep for dishonesty. He had been interrupting his client visits daily by going home for lunch.
Although he’d admitted his guilt at the disciplinary hearing, he nonetheless approached the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) claiming unfair dismissal. The commissioner awarded the employee both reinstatement of his job as well as back pay of R108 000, being what he would have earned between dismissal and the CCMA hearing.
Naturally, the employer approached the Labour Court for relief. The court established that although there was proof of the employee visiting his home for lunch daily, there was no policy covering how employees were expected to spend their lunch time. There was also no evidence that his daily performance targets of visiting 10 to 15 doctors per day were not satisfactorily met. Hence, the court agreed with the CCMA’s finding of unfair dismissal.
But, the CCMA’s award of both reinstatement and the R108 000 back pay were judged as improper. The employee had been hired on a fixed-term basis at a salary of R12 0000 per month and, at the time of dismissal, he had only two months remaining of his contract. Hence, the CCMA’s award of reinstatement long after the contract’s end was improper.
Therefore, the court set aside the CCMA awards and reduced the back-pay to only the remaining two months of the employee’s term of the contract.
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