What constitutes fair dismissal?

corien newsletter depiction.inddLabour law emphasises that every employee has the right not to be dismissed unfairly. This law defines the meaning of dismissal and when it may lawfully occur. Substantive and procedural fairness determines whether the dismissal was fair.

Dismissal means the following: The termination of a contract of employment with or without notice, and also if the employer fails to provide a fixed-term contract, or he does renew the contract, but on less favourable terms than the employee had reasonably expected.

Section 188 of the Labour Relations Act provides that dismissal is fair if the employer can prove that the dismissal is related to the employee’s conduct or capacity, or if it can be proven that the dismissal is based on the employer’s operational requirements. Dismissal is usually fair if a fair procedure was followed. Good practices are set out in legislation which outlines the discharge processes and must be taken into account.

Labour legislation provides for three different types of discharge, namely dismissal due to misconduct, poor performance or operational requirements. Certain procedures must be followed for each type of discharge. Employers sometimes confuse misconduct with poor performance. It is very important that the correct procedure is followed, but it is also necessary that the cause of the unsatisfactory behaviour is determined.

Misconduct is when the employee has violated certain rules such as rules against dishonesty or theft, or has refused to obey reasonable and lawful instructions. In these situations the employee has decided not to honour the code of conduct. The employee has knowingly violated a rule and therefore the person should be disciplined. This may result in written warnings and/or possible dismissal.

In contrast, poor performance involves situations where the employee is not in deliberate violation of any regulations but it may involve circumstances over which the employee may not necessarily have control. In this case other factors could be the cause of poor performance, such as lack of resources, inexperience, inadequate training or poor health. It is clear that the employee is not directly responsible for the behaviour and therefore disciplinary actions cannot be taken. The employee cannot be blamed for something like illness, therefore a counselling process is followed in lieu of a disciplinary hearing in order to find solutions for the poor performance.

The last type of dismissal is due to operational requirements. This type of discharge has to do with economic conditions, including a shortage of work or a lack of money. These are cases where the employer can no longer afford to retain a certain number of employees or new computers or sophisticated equipment have been acquired which renders a number of employees redundant. These are factors beyond the control of the employee and involves steps that the employer takes to protect his or her business from being ruined financially.

It is very important that the process contained in section 189 of the Labour Relations Act be followed here. This process requires the employer to engage with the employee in a meaningful way in order to negotiate and disclose certain information before dismissal can take place.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.

Differences between liquidation and sequestration process

corien newsletter depiction.inddThe application for liquidation and sequestration processes are often confused. Many people think that the processes are the same. However, there is a big difference between these two processes.

A simple way to describe liquidation is that liquidation is the winding up of a firm by selling off its free (un-pledged) assets to convert them into cash to pay the firm’s unsecured creditors. Before a liquidation application can be issued in court, a founding affidavit needs to be drafted. This affidavit will include all the details of the Applicant and / or Respondent. The Applicant is the person who wants to liquidate the company and the Respondent is the company. In the case where the Applicant is the company, there will be no Respondent. The affidavit will also include any details of the company, employees and creditors. A bond of security also needs to be signed for the purpose of the Master of the High Court.

Once the application is issued, the only people who receive this notice is the South African Revenue Services (SARS), the Master of the High Court, employees of the company and any trade unions. As soon as this is done, a Master’s certificate is obtained verifying the application, and a provisional liquidation order is granted.  A return date is then set, and all creditors are notified of the provisional liquidation through registered post and by placing the provisional order in two local newspapers. Should the Applicant’s attorneys receive no notice of intention to defend the matter, a final liquidation order is granted. The order together with the application is sent to the Master of the High Court and a liquidator will be appointed.

Sequestration is the preferred option for the individual who has exhausted all other options of resolution, and is now in a position where even if all their assets are sold, they would be left with such a high shortfall that it would be unreasonable to expect them to recover from this loss. A sequestration involves a little more administration work before a court date can be obtained. Before the Notice of Motion and Founding Affidavit are drafted, a valuer needs to be appointed in order to value the Applicant or Respondent’s estate. This needs to be done in order to ascertain whether the debtor is indeed over-indebted, and whether he / she has enough assets to provide a benefit for all creditors involved.

In the matter of a voluntary sequestration, the Applicant will be the party whose estate is to be sequestrated. The valuer needs to value the property of the Applicant on a forced sale scale. This will be calculated by subtracting 20% of the actual value of the property.

As soon as the valuer has made an estimate for the Applicant / Respondent’s estate, a Statement of Debtor’s Affairs needs to be handed in to the Master of the High Court for inspection by all creditors. This needs to be done no less than 14 or more than 30 days before the court date. A Notice of Surrender needs to be sent through registered post to all creditors to inform them that the Statement of Debtor’s Affairs is available for inspection.

The Notice of Surrender needs to be posted in two local newspapers and the Government Gazette no less than 14, or more than 30 days before the court date. Once all of the above-mentioned requirement has been adhered to, the notice of surrender can be annexed to the Founding Affidavit and can be heard by the court, no Bond of Security is needed at this point. A sequestration can only be heard by the High Court, whereas a liquidation can be heard either by a Magistrate’s Court or by the High Court, depending on the merits of the case.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.