Month: September 2014

Sick letters or fake letters?

A1blThis article deals with medical certificates and whether or not an employee is justified in taking the day off for an “illness”.

Angela informed her employer on Monday morning that she would be staying at home as she felt very sick and was unable to do her work in her condition. Angela only decided on Wednesday that she would go to the doctor because she knew she would be returning to work on Thursday, and therefore needed a medical certificate from the doctor so that her work would not deduct the money from her salary. However, Angela had a surprise waiting for her.

In terms of Rule 15(1) of the Ethical and Professional Rules of the Medical and Dental Professions Board of the Health Professions Council of South Africa a practitioner shall only grant a certificate of illness if such certificate contains the following information:

  • the name, address and qualification of the practitioner;
  • the name of the patient;
  • the employment number of the patient (if applicable);
  • the date and time of the examination;
  • whether the certificate is being issued as a result of personal observations by the practitioner during an examination, or as the result of information received from the patient and which is based on acceptable medical grounds;
  • a description of the illness, disorder or malady in layman’s terminology, with the informed consent of the patient, provided that if the patient is not prepared to give such consent, the medical practitioner or dentist shall merely specify that, in his or her opinion based on an examination of the patient, the patient is unfit to work;
  • whether the patient is totally indisposed for duty or whether the patient is able to perform less strenuous duties in the work situation;
  • the exact period of recommended sick leave;
  • the date of issuing of the certificate of illness; and
  • a clear indication of the identity of the practitioner who issued the certificate which shall be personally and originally signed by him or her next to his or her initials and surname in printed or block letters.

If preprinted stationery is used, a practitioner shall delete words which are irrelevant. A practitioner shall issue a brief factual report to a patient where such a patient requires information concerning himself/herself.

The above is largely self-explanatory. Subrule (e) refers to those occasions where, for example, the employee has been off sick on Monday and Tuesday and then on Wednesday he goes to the doctor and informs the doctor that he has had flu since Monday and requires a sick note. The doctor is then required to write in the sick note, “I was informed by the patient that …”

An employer does not have to accept this as a genuine illness. The doctor is only telling you that the patient says he was ill. The doctor is not certifying that he made an examination and is able to confirm the illness. You would therefore be perfectly justified in informing the employee that the time taken off will be regarded as unpaid leave and that in future he should visit the doctor when he falls ill and not after he has recovered from the alleged illness.

Unfortunately for Angela her employer recently read an article informing him of his rights to deduct money from her salary because she failed to come to work on Monday and Tuesday and only went to see the doctor on Wednesday, and there was no way of ascertaining that she definitely was ill on those days.

In light of the above it would be wise for employees to see the doctor on the same day that they feel ill, and for employers to insist on seeing the medical certificate and examining it properly.

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.

Freedom of testation and maintenance claims

A2blIs a testator entitled to disinherit a child and if so, will the child have a claim for maintenance against the estate?

Freedom of testation is the liberty of a testator to choose how to bequeath his/her estate, and govern how his/her property is transmitted after his/her death. The law of succession then, is at least in part concerned with the preservation of a testator’s wishes, even if it additionally serves a social function related to the family and economic structures of society. In principle South Africa propagates total freedom of testation.

The general approach in South African law is that agreements or clauses which attempt to limit freedom of testation are not enforceable. Further, once the testator’s wishes have been ascertained, a court is ordinarily bound to give effect to these wishes. Our baseline is allowing for much liberty and autonomy in the law of succession.

However, freedom of testation has never been unfettered. Both the common law and statutes, such as the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act 27 of 1990, impose restrictions on the testator. Bequests which are manifestly illegal or contra bonos mores (against good morals) will be regarded as invalid. Further, spouses and children may be disinherited in terms of the will but they may still have a legitimate claim for maintenance against a testator’s estate which cannot be disregarded.

There is furthermore a presumption against disinheritance, and courts will usually prefer a softer construction of a testator’s will in this respect. This is based on an assumption that a parent is not likely to disinherit a child. However, it is important to note that if it is explicit or clear in a testator’s will that a child is disinherited, then this will not constitute an impermissible exercise of freedom of testation; rather, a testator is given the liberty to lawfully do so.

South Africa gives fairly broad freedom to testators. Testators can generally dispose of their estates as they desire, subject only to certain restrictions mentioned above. Further, testators are not required to give reasons for their decisions in this regard, and are not accountable to their families for testamentary choices.

Nonetheless, the parental duty to maintain children will pass to the estate upon death, as confirmed in Carelse v Estate De Vries (1906) 23 SC 532. The minor child’s claim for maintenance is endorsed as settled law and a common law restriction on freedom of testation.

It should be noted that the child’s claim for maintenance and education is not to be confused with a legitimate portion as it does not entitle a minor to a set portion of the estate or, put differently, does not presumptively limit the testator’s ability to divide her estate as she or he desires. As such a testator could potentially disinherit a child without this impacting the common law claim the child will have against the estate.

Currently, South African law also provides for the surviving spouse to exercise a claim for maintenance against the deceased’s estate. The parental (and spousal) duty then does not merely extinguish upon death. The provision of maintenance for children gives effect to children’s rights as provided for by the Constitution, and affording this maintenance claim to protect dependants is wholly justifiable. This does not however entail that children should be entitled to a legitimate portion or forced heirship generally, as this would constitute an overly extensive constriction on freedom of testation.

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.

What happens after your house has been burnt to the ground?

A3blThere are definite steps that a homeowner will need to take if he ever has the traumatic experience of having his house burnt to the ground.

Over and above all the emotional and financial tension it causes in a person and his family, there will be several steps that a homeowner will need to take before the problems accompanying such an experience will be resolved.

The first step that needs to be taken by the homeowner is to report the matter to the nearest police station. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, by reporting the matter the homeowner will receive the necessary case number as required by most insurance companies. Secondly, the conduct of the third party may turn out to be a crime, for example, arson. Thereafter the complaint will be investigated by the police and handed over to the prosecuting authority that will decide if the third party should be prosecuted or not.

The second step is to report the matter to the insurance company together with the abovementioned case number. Thereafter the insurance company will investigate the claim and decide whether it is going to accept or reject the claim. The insurance policy will determine the ambit of the insurance company’s discretion in deciding whether to accept or reject the insured’s claim. The reason for this is that the insurance policy will determine the rights and obligations between the insurance company and the insured. If the insurance company decides to reject the insured’s claim the insured will have two further options at his disposal. The insured will be able to take the matter to the ombudsman for determination, or he may dispute the matter in a civil court based on breach of contract by the insurance company.

The third step will be to indemnify the insured if the claim is accepted by the insurance company. The amount that the insurance will pay out to the insured will once again be determined by the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. If the insurance company rejects the insured’s claim or if the insured decides not to claim from the insurance company, then the insured will be able to institute action against the third party if he can prove that the house was burned down as a result of the intentional or negligent conduct or omission by the third party or, alternatively, that the house was burned down as a result of a breach of a contractual obligation between the homeowner and the third party, had a contract been in 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.

Who may be appointed as director?

A4blCertain people are not eligible to be appointed as directors of a company. In this article we look at who is disqualified from being a director as well as the effects of the actions of such persons while still acting as director.

A company must not knowingly permit an ineligible or disqualified person to serve or act as a director, according to section 69(3) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008. “Knowingly” includes the situation where the company should reasonably have known that the person is ineligible or disqualified.

Section 69(7) lists the persons on which there are an absolute prohibition, being juristic persons, minors or any persons disqualified in terms of the Memorandum of Incorporation. Section 69(8) lists the persons that are disqualified on a temporary basis, being someone who has been prohibited by the court or whom the court has declared a delinquent, unrehabilitated insolvents, persons who were removed from an office of trust on the grounds of misconduct involving dishonesty, and persons who were found guilty of a criminal offence and imprisoned without the option of a fine, or were ordered to pay a higher fine for being found guilty of any dishonesty crimes.[1]

A question that arises here is what the effect would be of appointing a prohibited director. Section 69(4) says that a person immediately ceases to be a director if they are prohibited from being a director, but section 71(3) states that if a shareholder alleges that a person is disqualified then the person must be removed by a board resolution before they cease to be a director. This means that any act done by such a person, despite his disqualification, will be valid and binding on the company unless the third party who was involved in the act was aware that the person they were dealing with was disqualified.[2]

Section 162(5) (a)-(f) sets out the grounds for an order of delinquency. A court must make an order declaring a person to be a delinquent director if the person:

  1. consented to serve as a director, or acted in the capacity of a director or prescribed officer, while ineligible or disqualified to be a director;
  2. acted as a director in a manner that contravened an order of probation;
  3. grossly abused the position of director while being a director;
  4. took personal advantage of information or an opportunity, or intentionally or by gross negligence inflicted harm upon the company or a subsidiary while being a director;
  5. acted in a manner that amounted to gross negligence, wilful misconduct or breach of trust while being a director; or as contemplated in section 77(3) (a), (b) or (c);
  6. has repeatedly been personally subject to a compliance notice or similar enforcement mechanism;
  7. has been convicted of an offence at least twice, or subjected to an administrative fine or similar penalty; or
  8. was a director of a company or a managing member of a close corporation, or controlled or participated in the control of a juristic person that was convicted of an offence, or subjected to a fine or similar penalty, within a period of five years. [3] & [4]

If a person is declared a delinquent in terms of section 162(5) (a) or (b) it is unconditional and for the lifetime of the person. If a person is declared a delinquent in terms of section 162(5) (c)-(f) this is temporary for a minimum of 7 years.[5]

It is therefore very important, when appointing a director, to make sure that he is qualified in terms of the new Companies Act. One must do proper research about a person accordingly before appointing him as a director of a company because it is possible that if you do not do so, the company in which you are a shareholder may have to bear the consequences of the actions of this disqualified person. 

References:

  • Companies Act 71 of 2008
  • FHI Cassim et al Contemporary Company Law (2012)

[1] Section 69(7) – (8) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008.

[2] Section 69(4) and 71(3) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008.

[3] Section 162(5) (a)-(f) of the Companies Act.

[4] FHI Cassim et al Contemporary Company Law (2012) 435 – 437.

[5] FHI Cassim et al Contemporary Company Law (2012) 438.

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.

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