CAN SURROGATE PARENTS GET MATERNITY LEAVE?

Alex and Ben are in love and decide to enter into a civil union on 31 October 2010 in terms of the Civil Union Act[1]. Everything is going great and a year later they decide as a couple to enter into a surrogacy agreement with a surrogate mother in terms of which they shall have a baby. The surrogacy agreement was in accordance with the Children’s Act[2] and was confirmed by Court Order.

Ben and Alex discussed the logistics pertaining to their new bundle of joy. In terms of the Surrogacy Agreement they will be handed the child directly after birth, without the surrogate even catching sight of it. One or both of them will have to be available to care for the new-born from the moment of birth.

They decided that Alex would be the one to apply to his employer for paid maternity leave for a period of four months. This maternity application to his employer was in terms of the prescriptions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act[3] (BCEA) and more specifically in terms of his company’s policy on maternity leave.

The company’s decision

Alex received feedback from his Human Resources Department, informing him that his application for maternity leave was rejected in terms of the company’s policy and the BCEA, as neither provides for the issuing of maternity leave for surrogate parents. As a counter offer Alex was offered and subsequently accepted two months paid adoption leave and two months’ unpaid leave.

Alex referred the dispute to the CCMA on the basis of unfair discrimination, because his company refused to grant his application for maternity leave due to the fact that he is not the biological mother of his child. They further argued that a commissioning parent party to a surrogacy agreement is not entitled, in terms of their company policy, to the full and due four months paid leave as females are under the same policy.

Alex was not at all satisfied with the treatment received by his company and he felt that he has been discriminated against, as the Children’s Act and the Civil Union Act both recognised his status and rights as a commissioning parent. There was therefore no excuse as to why his company and the BCEA should not recognise it as well.

The CCMA, upon hearing the matter, established that Alex’s company’s policies were similar but more stringent than the BCEA in that they provided separately for adoption leave as offered to Alex and Ben, and not at all for surrogacy rights to leave. Furthermore, it came to light that due to recent legislative developments as mentioned above, there was no reason why Alex should not be entitled to maternity leave and that such maternity leave should be granted for the full and/or same period as any other mother is entitled to.

Upon hearing submissions from Alex, Ben and Alex’s employer the CCMA decided that by refusing Alex’s application for maternity leave Alex was unfairly discriminated against by the company in its implementation and structure of its archaic maternity leave policy.

The result

The CCMA ordered that Alex be paid an amount equivalent to two months’ salary for the previously granted unpaid leave. In addition, Alex’s company must recognise the status of parties to a civil union and not discriminate against the rights of commissioning parents who have entered into a surrogacy agreement, in applying its maternity leave policy. The company was also ordered to pay Alex’s costs of having to bring this application.

Legislative intervention is needed in this regard in order to adequately and undeniably address the rights of commissioning parents to maternity leave. This case pertained to company policies and was addressed as such, but Alex and Ben initially sought relief for themselves and other similarly placed applicants so as to prevent unfair discrimination against them in this regard.

 Reference:

  • [1] Act 17 of 2006
  • [2] Act 38 of 2005; Chapter 19
  • [3] Act 75 of 1997; Section 25 (hereinafter BCEA)

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. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

SHOULD A DOMESTIC WORKER GET A CHRISTMAS BONUS?

Doris, a domestic worker, demands a Christmas bonus from her employer in the amount of R1 000. She has not yet been employed for longer than a year and as a result no prior agreements or expectations have been created in this regard. When Christi, her employer, informs Doris that she will not pay her a Christmas bonus, Doris says that she will report Christi to the CCMA for unfair labour practices …

The situation

Doris is a domestic worker who has been working at a private residence in Durbanville for just under a year now. Christi, Doris’s employer, is not in a financial position to offer Doris a Christmas bonus, let alone a bonus to the amount requested by Doris. Christi explains to Doris that she cannot pay her a bonus due to economic constraints, but next year they could revisit the conversation and see if things have improved. It would also be based on Doris’s performance during the year.

Doris got very upset by this response threatens to take Christi to the CCMA for unfair labour practices. Christi feels apprehensive and is uncertain as to her stance in law on this point, so she consults an attorney to advise her.

The law

Upon obtaining legal advice Christi learns that labour law legislation provides no guidance on the question of bonuses. In the absence of a contractual term regulating bonuses, Christi learns that it is up to her to decide whether she wants to pay Doris a bonus or not.

Due to a Christmas bonus being considered as gratuitous payment by an employer to an employee, it is a natural corollary that the employee is granted same in exchange for a job well done, or for exceptional service which reaches beyond the call of duty in the year that has passed. This warrants a reward or tip over and above the normal agreed upon wage for services rendered.

Things Christi was advised to consider when making such a decision was inter alia Doris’s performance in the past year and Christi’s own financial position. She should also keep in mind that, should she decide to pay what Doris has demanded, a reasonable expectation may be created in the years to come for Christi to continue to pay such a bonus.

Conclusion

Doris does not have an all-encompassing right to receive a Christmas bonus. Further, due to the fact that no reasonable expectation has yet been created, Christi’s reasons for and decision not to pay Doris a bonus cannot be seen as an unfair labour practice. Thus providing Doris, in this particular case, no grounds on which to approach the CCMA to claim performance from Christi.

References:

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. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

RIGHT OF A DOMESTIC WORKER TO A CHRISTMAS BONUS

Doris, a domestic worker, demands a Christmas bonus from her employer in the amount of R1 000. She has not yet been employed for longer than a year and as a result no prior agreements or expectations have been created in this regard. When Christi, her employer, informs Doris that she will not pay her a Christmas bonus, Doris aggressively shouts that she will report Christi to the CCMA for unfair labour practices …

Doris is a domestic worker who has been working at a private residence in Durbanville for just under a year now. On 15 December 2015 Doris approaches her employer to demand a R1 000 Christmas bonus. Christi, Doris’s employer, is not in a financial position to offer Doris a Christmas bonus, let alone a bonus to the amount requested by Doris. Christi explains to Doris that she cannot pay her a bonus due to economic constraints but that next year they could revisit this conversation and see if things have improved. It would also be based on Doris’s performance during the year.

Doris gets very upset by this response and starts shouting at Christi, threatening to take her to the CCMA for unfair labour practices. Christi feels apprehensive and is uncertain as to her stance in law on this point, so she consults an attorney to advise her.

Upon obtaining legal advice Christi learns that labour law legislation provides no guidance on the question of bonuses. In the absence of a contractual term regulating bonuses, a previous arrangement or previous payments of a bonus Christi learns that it is up to her to decide whether she wants to pay Doris a bonus or not.

Due to a Christmas bonus being considered as gratuitous payment by an employer to an employee, it is a natural corollary that the employee is granted same in exchange for a job well done, or for exceptional service which reaches beyond the call of duty in the year that has passed. This warrants a reward or tip over and above the normal agreed upon wage for services rendered.

Things Christi was advised to consider when making such a decision were inter alia Doris’s performance in the past year and Christi’s own financial position. She should also keep in mind that, should she decide to pay what Doris has demanded, a reasonable expectation may be created in the years to come for Christi to continue to pay such a bonus.

Doris does not have an all-encompassing right to receive a Christmas bonus. Further, due to the fact that no reasonable expectation has yet been created, Christi’s reasons for and decision not to pay Doris a bonus cannot be seen as an unfair labour practice. Thus providing Doris, in this particular case, no grounds on which to approach the CCMA to claim performance from Christi.

Reference list:

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. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PREGNANT WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE

Employees are often faced with a difficult situation in the workplace when falling pregnant. Many establishments react unfavourably towards female employees that fall pregnant. These employees are often discriminated against in various direct and indirect manners. There are, however, clear provisions that protect employees in these situations which employees should familiarise themselves with.

There are different ways in which employees can be discriminated against in the workplace due to the fact that the employee has fallen pregnant. These forms of discrimination have different degrees of disadvantage towards the employee. It can range from having her contract terminated, being treated badly, being verbally abused or being ridiculed because she has fallen pregnant.

As a point of departure, it is stated in Section 9(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa[1], that nobody may be discriminated against based on the fact that they are pregnant. It is therefore a constitutional right for an employee not to be discriminated against in any form or manner because of her pregnancy. This right is further confirmed by Paragraph 4.2 of the Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy[2].

The most severe form of discrimination against an employee is the dismissal of an employee due to the fact that she has fallen pregnant. The Labour Relations Act [3] specifically mentions that an employer is not entitled to dismiss an employee due to her pregnancy. However, there are various other ways of discriminating against a pregnant employee that should be noted.

Employees should be mindful of more subtle forms of discrimination, such as contracts not being renewed when it was earlier apparent that it would have been, or where a promotion is not granted to an employee purely because she has fallen pregnant at a certain time. Whenever an employee can prove that there was a direct link between any disadvantage and her pregnancy, she will most likely be entitled to the appropriate remedy. Employees are further entitled to a certain amount of unpaid maternity leave and will be entitled to insist on it.

In the event of an employee being dismissed due to her pregnancy, or where it is clear that an employee was discriminated against in any way for this reason, there are various remedies for the employee to choose from. It is always a good idea to resolve the issue without taking legal action, as this will be an expensive exercise and will most likely cause a relatively uncomfortable atmosphere between an employee and an employer. An informal arrangement between the employer and employee is therefore recommended, yet it is not always a practical solution. However, if no other option is available to the employee, she will always have the option to approach the CCMA as well as Labour Courts to prove that she was discriminated against due to her pregnancy. She will then be in a position to request the appropriate remedy.

In conclusion, female employees should be mindful of possible forms of discrimination against them as it is clearly prohibited. Direct and indirect forms of discrimination exist but aren’t always easy to identify. However, if identified and proven, such discrimination will not be allowed and must subsequently be corrected.

Bibliography

Acts:

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy

Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995

[1] Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

[2] Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy

[3] Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995

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. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

WANNEER IS ONTSLAG REGVERDIG?

Die Arbeidswet stel dit duidelik dat elke werknemer die reg het om nie onbillik ontslaan te word nie. Die wet omskryf die betekenis van ontslag en wanneer dit mag plaasvind. Substantiewe en prosedurele regverdigheid bepaal of die ontslag regverdig was al dan nie.

Ontslag beteken die volgende: Die beëindiging van ʼn dienskontrak met of sonder kennis, en ook wanneer die werkgewer versuim om ʼn vastetermynkontrak te hernu, of die kontrak wel hernu, maar teen minder gunstige voorwaardes as wat die werknemer redelikerwys verwag het.

Artikel 188 van die Arbeidswet bepaal dat ontslag billik is as die werkgewer kan bewys dat die ontslag verband hou met die werknemers se gedrag of bekwaamheid, of as daar bewys kan word dat die ontslag gegrond is op die werkgewer se bedryfsvereistes. Ontslag is daarbenewens ook billik as ʼn billike prosedure gevolg is. Goeie praktyke vir ontslag word in die wetgewing uiteengesit en moet in ontslagprosesse in ag geneem word.

Arbeidswetgewing maak voorsiening vir drie verskillende tipes ontslag, naamlik ontslag weens wangedrag, swak prestasie of operasionele vereistes. Sekere prosedures moet gevolg word vir elke tipe ontslag. Werkgewers verwar soms wangedrag met swak prestasie. Dit is baie belangrik dat die regte proses gevolg word, maar dit is ook nodig dat die oorsaak van die onbevredigende gedrag bepaal word.

Wangedrag is wanneer die werknemer sekere reëls oortree het, byvoorbeeld reëls teen oneerlikheid of diefstal, asook die weiering van billike en wettige opdragte. In hierdie gevalle het die werknemer die besluit geneem om nie die gedragskode na te kom nie. Die werknemer het bewustelik ‘n reël oortree en daarom sal die persoon gedissiplineer moet word. Dit kan lei tot waarskuwings en/of moontlike ontslag.

In teenstelling hiermee het swak prestasie meer te make met situasies waar die werknemer nie ‘n doelbewuste oortreding begaan het nie, maar eerder omstandighede waaroor die werknemer nie noodwendig beheer het nie. Dus kan ander faktore blameer word vir swak prestasie, soos byvoorbeeld gebrek aan hulpmiddele, gebrek aan ondervinding, onvoldoende opleiding of swak gesondheid. Hier is dit duidelik dat die werknemer nie direk verantwoordelik is vir die gedrag nie en daarom kan dissiplinêre aksies nie geneem word nie. Die werknemer kan nie geblameer word vir iets soos siekte nie, dus sal ‘n beradingsproses gevolg word in plaas van ‘n dissiplinêre verhoor om oplossings te vind vir die swak prestasie.

Die laaste tipe ontslag is as gevolg van operasionele vereistes. Hierdie tipe ontslag het te doen met ekonomiese omstandighede, onder andere ‘n tekort aan werk of ‘n tekort aan geld. Hierdie is gevalle waar die werkgewer dit nie langer kan bekostig om ʼn sekere aantal werknemers in diens te hou nie of waar hy moontlik nuwe rekenaars of gevorderde toerusting bekom het wat ʼn sekere aantal werknemers oortollig maak. Dit is faktore buite die beheer van die werknemer en gaan oor die stappe wat die werkgewer neem om sy of haar besigheid teen finansiële ondergang te beskerm.

Dit is baie belangrik dat die proses in artikel 189 van die Arbeidswet hier gevolg moet word. Hierdie proses vereis dat die werkgewer op ‘n sinvolle manier met die werknemer moet onderhandel en sekere inligting openbaar maak voordat ernstige stappe soos ontslag geneem word.

Hierdie is ‘n algemene inligtingstuk en moet gevolglik nie as regs- of ander professionele advies benut word nie. Geen aanspreeklikheid kan aanvaar word vir enige foute of weglatings of enige skade of verlies wat volg uit die gebruik van enige inligting hierin vervat nie. Kontak altyd u regsadviseur vir spesifieke en toegepaste advies. (E&OE)

SICK LETTERS OR FAKE LETTERS?

This 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.

WHAT CONSTITUTES FAIR DISMISSAL?

Labour 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.