Article 33/2022

The labour appeal court recently ruled that an employer cannot rely at arbitration on a reason for dismissal different from the reason for dismissal utilised internally.  What are the considerations to be taken into account in coming to such a conclusion and what are the consequences of this judgment?

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In Samancor Chrome Ltd (Eastern Chrome Mines) v CCMA and Others (2020) 31 SALLR 142 (LAC), the labour appeal court identified the following relevant principles:

  • an employer should notify the employee of any allegation of misconduct ‘using a form and language that the employee can reasonably understand’ (item 4(1), Schedule 8 Code of Good Practice: Dismissal)
  • while it is immaterial what label is given to the misconduct alleged, notice should be given in a manner which provides a reasonable degree of clarity so as to enable the employee to answer to the allegation raised (see Zeelie v Price Forbes (Northern Province) (1) (2001) 22 ILJ 2053 (LC), at 2063A-C; Mutual Construction Co Tvl (Pty) Ltd v Ntombela NO and Others [2009] ZALAC 14; (2010) 31 ILJ 901 (LAC); [2010] 5 BLLR 513 (LAC), at paragraph [41])
  • the arbitration hearing was one de novo with there being no bar on relevant additional evidence being adduced at arbitration.  This was so since the determination of the fairness of a dismissal at arbitration ‘is not reached with reference to the evidential material that was before the employer at the time of its decision but on the basis of all the evidential material before the arbitrator’ (County Fair Foods (Pty) Ltd v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and Others (1999) 20 ILJ 1701 (LAC); [1999] 11 BLLR 1117 (LAC), at paragraph [11]
  • it is, however, not open to an employer to alter or amend the reason for dismissal or to rely on an entirely different reason for such dismissal at arbitration, and there was no merit in the appellant’s submission that the employee’s misconduct ‘must be viewed through the prism of the contextualised version during the course of the domestic hearing and subsequent arbitration proceedings’.  To the extent that this suggested that it was permissible for the reason for dismissal to morph from that advanced by the employer at the time of dismissal to a different reason advanced at arbitration, this was simply not the case

With reference to Potgieter v Samancor Chrome Ltd t/a Tubatse Ferrochrome (2022) 33 SALLR 190 (LC) and Van Rensburg and Others v Department of Justice and Correctional Services and Others (2022) 33 SALLR 280 (LC); (2022) 43 ILJ 2110 (LC).

In what instances does the jurisdiction of the supreme court of appeal trump the jurisdiction of the labour appeal court?

Where an employer prematurely terminates a fixed-term contract and the employee challenges such termination as being unlawful and claims damages and not specific performance, the labour court has up to now ordered damages even though same is an unliquidated claim for damages.