View Record

TitleThe procedural fairness requirement in suspensions
AuthorJaptha, Louisa Dihelena
SubjectLabor discipline -- Law and legislation -- South Africa
SubjectEmployees -- Complaints against -- South Africa
SubjectEmployee rights -- South Africa
Formativ, 81 leaves
AbstractThe focal point of this treatise is the procedural requirements relating to suspensions. For a suspension to be fair it must be for a fair reason and in accordance with a fair procedure which is commonly referred to as substantive and procedural fairness. The Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 does not tell or provide guidance in terms of what these procedural requirements for a suspension are. The Act is completely silent on this matter. The Act only requires that any disciplinary measure instituted against an employee must be done in terms of a fair procedure. Suspensions have been described by our courts as the employment equivalent of arrest. It is normally used as a preventative measure pending internal disciplinary investigations or as a disciplinary sanction for an employee who repeatedly engages in misconduct. This treatise highlights the impact of arbitrary suspension of employees and suspensions of employees for inordinate periods of time. Suspensions are not intended for purposes of punishment. The Labour Court has on numerous decisions cautioned employers on issues of unfair suspension because of its detrimental impact on the employee’s reputation, advancement, job security and other grounds. Situations have often arisen where an employer suspends an employee without following any procedure. This practice was particularly prevalent under the common law and before the judgment in Mogothle v the Premier of the Northwest Province and Another when employers were suspending employees as they saw fit. Following the principles in this case, bearing in mind that each case is judged on its own merits and the detrimental effect of a suspension. A suspension should only be warranted in circumstances where: The employer has a justifiable reason to believe prima facie at least that the employee has engaged in serious misconduct; There is some objectively justifiable reason to deny the employee access to the workplace based on the integrity of any pending investigation into the alleged misconduct or some other relevant factor that would place the investigation or the interest of affected parties in jeopardy. The employee is given the opportunity to state a case or to be heard before any final decision to suspend is made. Although the right to be heard is not a formally defined process, case law has developed this concept to such an extent that it will be regarded as unfair labour practice if not adhered to. A suspension of an employee can therefore never be justified without adhering to the audi alteram partem principle. This does not mean that an employer cannot suspend an employee. Our courts accept that suspension is necessary especially for purposes of good administration and is justified, following the correct procedure and where the employer continues to pay the employee. Despite the fact that the courts are playing a more active role with regards to the issue of suspensions, suspensions are often open to abuse. In this regard the treatise focused on the notion of special leave versus suspensions. We note how in the last few years, employers especially those in the public service sector, misconstrued and misused their power for a purpose not authorised in law, and continue to do so despite applications to the courts alerting it to the illegality of this practice. Employers are resorting to special leave with the aim of side stepping the procedural requirements laid down by our courts in respect of section 182 (2) of the Labour Relations Act. In this regard the courts vehemently criticised this practice and ensured that employers who are acting maliciously without adhering to their own policies and procedures are held accountable. The court held that in the event where special leave is imposed on an employee for the purposes of discipline, that special leave is regarded as a suspension. Lastly, it is quite evident that the courts are playing a much more active role pertaining to the issue of suspensions. A number of court decisions discussed in this treatise show how the courts come down hard on employers who hastily resort to suspending an employee where there is no valid reason to do so or where the procedure was manifestly unfair.
PublisherNelson Mandela Metropolitan University
PublisherFaculty of Law