Contributors

This week Ivan Istraelstam explains all of the dispute resolution bodies, and the fees and costs for an employer who is found to have unfairly dismissed an employee.

As with all disciplines, labour law has its own terminology. What does "hiding behind the corporate veil" mean? Ivan Israelstam explains how employers sometimes seek to hide the true nature of a business practice, and how the CCMA, bargaining councils, and labour courts will respond.   

In medium to large size companies, there will usually be a number of specialist departments. It is critical that employees within the company understand that any communication arriving from the CCMA should be passed on to the person designated to deal with CCMA matters. Failing to attend an arbitration hearing may well have serious - and expensive - consequences for the company. Ivan Israelstam provides cases to demonstrate the consequences of employer non-attendance.

There is a national strategy to improve skills and knowledge, to support people to find employment, and reduce unemployment. Learning programmes to achieve this, include apprenticeships, learnerships, graduate work programmes, in-service experience as part of a qualification. The people on these programmes are required to have an employment contract for the duration of the programme. What are the implications of that "employment" contract?

This week Ivan Israelstam explains the process an exployer should adopt if a retrenchment of employees is contemplated. He explains what the steps are to be followed, to ensure that the employer complies with the requirements of the Labour Relations Act for what is an operational requirements dismissal.

What is a transfer of a business, and what are the implications for the new owner of the business? This week Ivan Israelstam uses examples of cases to explain the expensive consequences for a business owner, who does not follow the requirements of the Labour Relations Act. 

When may an employee reasonably refuse an instruction? When will a refusal to carry out an instruction be insubordination? Important questions for an employer to be clear about - to avoid launching into disciplinary action that will be unfair.

What are the policies that an employer should have in place to deal with allegations by an employee of sexual harassment? What steps should the employer take if they receive an allegation, and is dismissal always the correct disciplinary action? This week Ivan Israelstam provides guidance for employers.

Once a recruitment decision is made, the next step is to conclude an employment contract. Has employment started and does the new employee have rights from the date of signing the contract? What is the guidance of the labour courts? 

Employees may be hired on a variety of different forms of contract. This week Ivan Israelstam explains what the implications of the various contracts are, when employers are not happy with employee performance and seek to terminate the contract. 

There are a number of ways that employers attempt to avoid agreeing permanent contracts with employees, for example: the use of fixed term contracts, or contracting with labour brokers to provide workers. Ivan Israelstam suggests that these actions are a reaction to difficulties in the ability of employers to dismiss permanent employees. He quotes cases to illustrate this point. 

When is a dismissal justified - and what circumstances need to be taken into account before an employer decides to dismiss an employee? Various courts have confirmed that the circumstances do matter. So it is not possible to simply state X action requires dismissal. Ivan Israelstam provides examples to illustrate how an employer should consider all the circumstances before coming to a decision.  

The key document for employers to follow when taking disciplinary action, is the Code of Good Practice: Dismissal (The Code), contained in Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA). This should be read in conjunction with the employer's own Disciplinary Procedure. This week Ivan Israelstam uses cases to explain the difficulties that arise should an employee request to be represented by a lawyer at the internal disciplinary enquiry. 

There are a number of reasons why employers might suspend an employee. This week Ivan Israelstam deals with these questions: What are the reasons for suspension? What are the risks associated with each reason?

This week Ivan Israelstam explains the background to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) Guidelines. What is the purpose of publication of the guidelines, and what are some of the important items included in the document? The guidelines are intended to ensure greater consistency in Commissioners' arbitration decisions, and meet the Constitutional right of employers to fair administrative action. In conclusion, Ivan reinforces that the onus to prove a fair dismissal rests with the employer.  

The CCMA Guidelines: Misconduct Arbitrations (The Guidelines) states that it is not unfair for employers to use third parties such as attorneys to chair disciplinary hearings. However, these highly important guidelines do not give disciplinary hearing chairpersons the right to conduct such hearings in a biased manner. The Guidelines oblige Commissioners to assess whether workplace dismissals are fair or unfair, and it is difficult to see how such dismissals can be fair if the presiding officer is biased and if it is shown that such bias results directly in prejudice to the employee.

 

Employers do become emotionally involved in some of the serious disciplinary cases at the workplace. So as Ivan Israelstam points out, it is very important to have a trained person to chair disciplinary hearings. It is important to understand the requirements of Schedule 8, which requires a two step process - first to prove what happened, and then to consider all circumstances before taking the decision to dismiss. That is the requirement of considering mitigating factors.  

Employers sometimes become emotional about an employee, and will manipulate circumstances to achieve a dismissal. One of the ways of doing this is to put further allegations against an employee, when the matter has previously been decided. Ivan Israemstam quotes a number of cases to illustrate the point of when re-doing hearings is justifiable - and how employers may lose if they manipulate the circumstances.

During 2014/15, and again in 2018, there have been a number of changes made to the legislation affecting the obligations of employers and the rights of employees, and responsibilities of commissioners presiding over misconduct hearings.  This week Ivan Israelstam points out that employers are failing to defend their decisions at the CCMA. A number of important changes are listed and Ivan will be covering these over the coming weeks.

This week Ivan Israelstam answers the question: what is workplace fraud? Then he goes explain what employers need to be able to prove to sustain a case, when there is a dismissal dispute lodged at the CCMA.  

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) sets out the rights of an employee in disciplinary matters - giving effect to individual Constitutional rights. In disputes, the employer needs to be able to prove that all of the rights as set out in the LRA, were adhered to. This week Ivan Israelstam explains how an employer would provde their compliance - and the implications for employer procedures. 

It is legally risky for employers to fire an employee for using alcohol or drugs. This is because, where the employee is addicted, he/she is legally classified as being ill and is protected by law.

 

 

Many organisations experience hostility between employees for a number of reasons: favouritism, nepotism, affairs, jealousy over promotions, power struggles, sexist, racist, or bigoted behaviour - are just some of the situations. An employer may believe that the easist way to solve the problem is simply to dismiss the employees involved. This week Ivan Israelstam explains how this approach may backfire. 

This week Ivan provides examples from decided cases of what would not be sufficient to justify dismissal, or make the continued employment relationship intolerable. This is compared with how the Labour Appeal Court has approached allegations of racism, or racist language as:  “an anathema to sound industrial relations and a severe and degrading attack on the dignity of the employees in question”. 

There are a number of reasons why an employer might find a mutually agreed termination more time effective or efficient than other disciplinary procedures.  However, the employer should be very careful not to confuse a retrenchment situation - with very specific procedural requirements - and a genuine mutually agreed termination of the employment relationship. Importantly, such an end of the contract is not legally classed as a dismissal. Ivan Israelstam explains.

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