Tag: dismissal

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

Employers are entitled to use confessions as evidence in disciplinary hearings.

However, just because an employee makes a confession this does not allow the employer to fire the employee on the spot.

This is because:

• Even where the employee does confess s/he is still entitled to a proper hearing

• The confession may have been coerced

• The employee may not have understood what he was doing when he/she signed the confession

• The act to which the employee confessed may not amount to misconduct serious enough infringement to merit dismissal.

• The CCMA might find, for technical reasons, that the confession was invalid.

We need to look at each of these factors more closely:

Even where the employee does confess he/she is still entitled to proper procedure

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) gives employees the unassailable right to a hearing and not even a confession of murder will allow the employer to deviate from this principle.

Even where the employee properly confesses to an act of misconduct it may not be a serious enough infringement to merit dismissal

Dismissal would be unfair where the employee admits to having arrived half an hour late for work especially if this is a first or second offence because dismissal must be reserved for repeated offences or for gross misconduct.

The CCMA might find, for technical reasons, that the confession was invalid

For example, in the case of FAWU obo Sotyato vs JH Group Retail Trust (2001, 8, BALR 864) the employee signed a confession that he had stolen two bottles of beer. However, the CCMA ruled out this confession on the grounds that it had not been sworn before a commissioner of oaths.

The confession may not have been made willingly

If the confession was made under duress it will not qualify as a confession at all. At best it will constitute a meaningless statement coerced out of the employee; and at worst it will act as proof that the employer was seeking a scapegoat or was trying to concoct a false case against the employee as a means of getting rid of him/her for unacceptable reasons.

The employee may not have understood what he was doing when s/he signed the confession

The employee may be asked to sign a confession document but may, for example, think he/she is signing acknowledgement of receipt of a notice of a disciplinary hearing. Should this be proven the confession will become invalid.

Confessions that are properly made and wisely used can be valuable at disciplinary hearings. The challenge for the employer is therefore to obtain the expertise necessary to ensure that once a confession is made that it sticks and is appropriately used.

Dismissal for poor performance

While the law allows employers to decide what the proper standards of performance are, the employer will, if taken to the CCMA, be required to prove the fairness of the dismissal.

Employers must therefore ensure that their performance management systems and practices are designed to enable the employer to prove at arbitration that:

• The employee knew what the required performance standard was;

• The standard was realistically achievable;

• The employee was given sufficient opportunity to achieve the standard; and

• It was the employee’s fault that he/she failed to achieve the standard.

How must the employer’s systems be geared to provide legal proof in these four areas?

Did the employee know what the performance standard was?

The employee’s signed employment contract or performance agreement must spell out that, for example, that he/she is required to make 10 sales per month, reach 2 million rand turnover per year, pack 100 boxes per month or make 3 widgets per hour.

Was the standard achievable?

The employer’s formal records of actual past performance of the employee and others who have done the same work must clearly show that the agreed standard (e.g. 10 sales per month) has regularly been achieved and that therefore the standard is achievable and fair.

In the case of White vs Medpro Pharmaceutica (2000, 10 BALR 1182) the employee failed to meet her targets in nine out of ten months. The CCMA nevertheless found her dismissal to be unfair because the employer had set targets that were not achievable in the CCMA’s view.

Has the employee been given sufficient opportunity to achieve the standard?

The employer’s records relating to the employee’s performance must clearly show that, for example, the employee:

a) Has been given sufficient work to do to provide the necessary practice to become proficient
b) Has the time to get the work done properly.

Was it the employee’s fault that the performance standard was not met?

The employer’s performance monitoring records must show that:

• The employer has consistently provided the employee with the necessary work materials, training and equipment;

• The market demand for employer’s product has not reduced; or

• That there were no other reasons beyond the employee’s control for the employee’s poor work performance.

In Robinson vs Sun Couriers (2003, 1 BALR 97) the CCMA found Robinson’s dismissal to be unfair because the employer had neither established the reason for the poor performance nor brought any proof that the poor performance was the employee’s fault.

Employers must therefore be able to prove that they have:

• Set targets that are provably reasonable;

• Adjusted targets when new circumstances dictate this;

• Given employees a real chance to achieve the desired performance level; and

• Removed all obstructions to the achievement of the standards.

Thus the format of a good performance control system would be as follows:

• Details of the quantity, quality and time frame requirements of each employee;
• Proof that these standards have been achieved regularly;
• The nature of the specific tasks that the employee has been given during each performance period, the number of hours that the employee has been given to perform those tasks;
• The availability to the employee of all resources in good order needed for successful completion of the work; and
• The contact details of a reputable expert in labour law and performance management.

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

One would think that if an employee is found to be under the influence of alcohol at work it is a straightforward dismissible offence. Recent case law has shown that this is not necessarily so.

Employers often operate under the mistaken belief that testing positive for alcohol equates to the employee being under the influence of alcohol.
Alcohol and drug abuse is a form of misconduct. Schedule 8 of the Code of Good Practice of the Labour Relations Act, No 66 of 1995 (LRA) recognises misconduct by an employee as a fair reason for dismissal.

There are two scenarios in which an employee may be charged for their use of alcohol at the workplace:

The first scenario is where the employee’s drunkenness can be proven by sight, smell and/or the conduct of the
employee. Factors showing drunkenness include aggressive behaviour from the employee, slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. The degree of drunkenness has to be to such an extent that it impairs the employee’s ability to work. The onus is on the employer to prove this. No expert witness is required for such purposes.

The second scenario is where an employee tests positive for alcohol on a breathalyser apparatus. A positive outcome does not necessarily prove that the employee is under the influence of alcohol or that the employee’s ability to work has been impaired. Employers often mistakenly believe that a positive test result is sufficient proof to show that the employee was under the influence of alcohol and then mistakenly charge the employee for being under the influence of alcohol. Recent case law has confirmed that a positive test result is not necessarily sufficient to dismiss an employee. In Tosca Labs v CCMA 2012 33 ILJ 1738 (LC) the Labour Court found that a positive test result on a breathalyser test is not sufficient proof to indicate that the employee was under the influence of alcohol. The court referred to Tanker Services (Pty) Ltd v Magudulela 1997 12 BLLR 1552 (LAC) which stated that the real test is whether the employee’s competence to perform their work has been impaired. In this case the employee was able to perform his tasks and the court held that the dismissal was substantively unfair.

What should an employer do?

• The employer should adopt a zero tolerance in terms of its alcohol policy in the workplace. Such policy should be specific and also provide for a summary dismissal, even when the employee has just been tested positive for the use of alcohol or drugs. The rational for such policy should be based on the safety considerations of the employer. This means that an employee may be summarily dismissed irrespective of whether his/her ability to work is impaired or not. To adopt such a policy depends on the status thereof and may sometimes simply require consulting with the employees before the implementation of such policy. The employer should always ensure that all employees are aware that there is a zero tolerance policy and that if they test positive for any usage of alcohol, they will be in breach of the policy and may be subjected to disciplinary action and possible dismissal.

• In addition to the above, the breathalyser apparatus should be properly calibrated and the person administering the test should be trained to do so correctly. The test should also always be done in the presence of a witness.

• However where possible and applicable, evidence should preferably be obtained to show that the employee’s ability to work was impaired – if that was indeed the case.

• If it emerges that an employee is dependent on alcohol the employer has an obligation to consider providing counselling and assist the employee as is set out in item 10 of Schedule 8 of the LRA.

The Labour Court has found that the dismissal of four of the eight journalists fired by the SABC to be unlawful.

The court ordered that the journalists be allowed to return to work.

The SABC was also interdicted from continuing with the disciplinary action against them.

Trade union Solidarity, acting on behalf of four of the eight journalists — Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Jacques Steenkamp and Krivani Pillay — lodged an application in the Labour Court in a bid to have dismissals overturned.

Eight journalists were suspended for questioning an editorial decision taken to ban the footage of violent protests where public property was being burnt. Following this seven of the eight were fired.

By Genevieve Quintal for BDLive

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