Load shedding and your employees

A2_BWe are getting used to load shedding and it almost certainly is going to be around for several years.

Business is already feeling the effects of time disruptions and a major area of concern is how you deal with your workforce in this testing period. A good place to start is with current labour law.

Must you pay for time lost during power cuts?

In terms of labour legislation, the concept of paying for agreed output or performance does not apply. If for example your employee is expected to work from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and at 9.30 a.m. load shedding takes place, you are obliged to pay the employee in full. The fact that work cannot take place for reasons outside the control of the business, does not affect the employer-employee contract. If your employee is available and ready to work, then that employee is to be paid.

Should you ask your employees to make up for the load shedding downtime, then  you are potentially liable for overtime if working hours are extended beyond the norm.

If employees are required to take their lunch period during load shedding, the employer is required to pay the employee for lunch periods greater than seventy five minutes. With load shedding usually lasting several hours, this puts you in another dead end.

There is only so much training and staff meeting time a business needs to have, so what else can an employer do? 

Speak to your employees

The best way to break this logjam is to negotiate an agreement with your labour force (and any union(s) in the workplace) to adjust working hours and conditions to minimise the impact of load shedding for everyone’s benefit. Remember that any alteration to their working conditions requires their consent to make these changes legally acceptable. It is not in their interests to refuse a reasonable proposal as you can still go down the retrenchment route (see below).

It is worth noting that some industries have already negotiated load shedding procedures which enable flexibility in working hours and conditions.    

What happens if you can’t agree?

Failing agreement with your employees, if load shedding is significantly impacting the business you may be forced to begin a process of restructuring the business in terms of the Labour Relations Act. The process will involve steps like negotiating that there is no pay when there is load shedding, or reduced overtime and/or changes to working hours. Employees who refuse to go with this process face retrenchment proceedings.

The difficulty with this approach is it is time consuming, the requirements for successful retrenchment are complicated and strictly enforced, and if it goes to the Labour Court, it could be costly and take further time. 

Our labour laws are complex and the penalties for getting them wrong are serious – what is set out above is just an overview of the legal situation so take full advice on your particular circumstances.

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