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)

VIGILANTLY OR CRIMINAL? TAKING THE LAW INTO MY OWN HANDS

If someone gets something of theirs stolen, they might be tempted to go take it back, by force if necessary. However, that would be considered illegal and would put your belongings back into the hands of the thief.

Mandament van Spolie

The Mandament van Spolie is an extraordinary, quick and robust remedy for the restoration of possession. Its purpose is to restore possession to the person who was deprived, and is based on the principle that no man should take the law into his own hands.

Since the object is to restore possession to the applicant, the court will not consider any defences based on the respondent’s rights of ownership. Therefore, neither the applicant nor the respondent need to prove ownership. Only the requirements listed below need to be proven. Based on this unique characteristic of the Mandament van Spolie this remedy can be used by a thief or any other person without the right of ownership. The Mandament van Spolie is a final order and is appealable. The respondent, however, may continue with other proceedings if he is the owner.

The requirements for this remedy were set out in two important decisions that are still relevant in this regard, namely Nino Bonino v De Lange 1906(T) and Yeko v Qana 1973(A).

  1. Proof that the applicant was in peaceful and undisturbed control of the property. The first requirement means that the applicant had control over the property in question. For purposes of the spoliation remedy this control must have existed “peacefully and undisturbed” for a period long enough, and in a manner stable enough, to qualify any unlawful disturbance of the peace.
  1. Proof that the respondent took or destroyed that control by means of unlawful self-help or spoliation. The second requirement for the spoliation remedy is that the existing peaceful and undisturbed control must have been unlawfully spoliated by the respondent.

Conclusion

The spoliation remedy is aimed at preserving peace and order in the community. People cannot be permitted to circumvent the remedy by contract. Parties to a contract cannot agree that one of them will be permitted to take property from the other without proper legal procedure.

Reference:

  • A J van der Walt & G J Pienaar: Introduction to property law, 5th edition, pp 218-223.

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)

CAN I GET REFUNDED IF I’M SOLD A DEFECTIVE CAR?

Ford South Africa has been forced to recall more than 4500 Kuga Ecoboost 1.6 litre models manufactured between December 2012 and February 2014. Ford South Africa’s chief executive Jeff Nemeth announced the recall after more than 50 cases of engine fires had been reported.

This incident has raised the question of whether or not a buyer of a car can get a full refund if it turns out the car has a serious defect. This falls into the domain of the Consumer Protection Act, No 68 of 2008. The CPA serves to protect the interests of all consumers, ensure accessible, transparent and efficient redress for consumers who are subjected to abuse or exploitation in the marketplace and also to give effect to internationally recognised consumer rights.

According to Section 7 of the CPA, a consumer has the:

a) Right to demand quality service,

b) Right to safe, good quality goods,

c) Right to implied warranty of quality.

Will I be able to get my money back?

In terms of section 56 of the act, any product should be fit for purpose for at least six months after purchase. The Ford Kuga hazard is caused by a manufacturing defect, which implies that the owner could return the vehicle within six months of purchase and ask for his/her money back (or a replacement vehicle). The other option is to ask for or accept an offer from Ford to repair the car.

For many reasons, dealers are not just going to just give consumers their money back. The vehicle should first be taken in for the repair and if that fails – or a secondary feature fails and another hazard develops – then the supplier must replace or refund the owner of the vehicle the price that was paid.

Reference:

  • The Consumer Protection Act, No 68 of 2008

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)

DO I NEED A COHABITATION CONTRACT WITH MY PARTNER?

Cohabitation is a relationship between two people who choose to live together in a monogamous and stable environment. Couples who decide on cohabitation could do so, prior to getting married, as an alternative to marriage, or while they are still in the process of divorce and are already living with their new partner.

The differences between marriage and cohabitation are as follows:

  1. No legal protection if/when the partnership ends.
  2. Claiming maintenance after a separation could be more difficult/impossible.
  3. No court is required to end the relationship.
  4. Partners won’t necessarily inherit from each other.
  5. Cohabitants cannot insure each other’s property.

What happens if there is no written cohabitation agreement?

  • If there is no agreement on the dissolution of a relationship, a person is only entitled to retain the property which s/he has purchased and owns.
  • The couple would be entitled to share in the property proportionately in terms of the contribution which they have made to the relationship. Each person will need to prove what property they have acquired together in order to get back what they are entitled to.
  • If a dispute arises, a court may be approached for assistance.

How are couples protected in cohabitation?

  • In order to protect the couple in cohabitation, rights and obligations of the couple can be protected by way of entering into a cohabitation agreement. The agreement regulates the relationship during its existence and after it has come to an end.
  • A cohabitation agreement can be entered into verbally or in writing. It is recommended that such an agreement be concluded in writing and signed.
  • The agreement can be concluded at any time during the relationship.

A cohabitation contract

If two partners have decided to live together it would be beneficial to have a contract drawn up. These are some elements the contract could contain:

  1. Household expenses: Who is responsible for paying what and from whose account?
  2. Joint property: If you want joint assets rather than separate assets.
  3. Joint home: If you want a home to be registered in both names of the partners, however, the partners don’t have to have equal shares in the property.
  4. End of relationship: Deciding what will happen with each other’s assets after the relationship ends and whether or not one partner will be able to receive maintenance from the other.
  5. Children: If there’s a child, the parental rights and responsibilities should be set out, but this has to be done with legal advice first and should be registered.

Conclusion

Cohabitation can be successful in and of itself, but without a contract, there are no ‘safety nets’. This could prove a mistake in relationships where property or a child is involved.

Reference:

  • Anderson, AM. Dodd, A. Roos, MC. 2012. “Everyone’s Guide to South African Law. Third Edition”. Zebra Press.

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)

IS THE TENANT OR LANDLORD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WATER LEAKS?

Questions, and sometimes disputes, often arise between landlords and tenants regarding where the responsibility lies with the maintenance of a property. The simple answer is that tenants can generally only be held responsible for repairs/replacement on the property if the damage was caused by the tenant’s actions, or items that have a short life span, such as light bulbs.

On the other hand, alarm systems, auto gates and doors, locks, fixtures and fittings, appliances, or anything provided to the tenant are generally the responsibility of the owner to repair, unless damaged by the tenant.

Fair wear and tear

Damage due to fair wear and tear is the owner’s responsibility to correct. This includes situations where the property has, over time, experienced wear due to its use or age.

Examples would include:

  1. Fireplace chimneys: The landlord should maintain the fireplace e.g. having the chimney cleaned at appropriate intervals. Gardens, however, would require the tenant to do general maintenance.
  2. Blocked drains: This is usually due to tenant usage making it the tenant’s responsibility, but if blockage is due to tree roots, it would be the landlord’s responsibility.

Regarding appliances, as with any fixture or fitting, the landlord is responsible for repairs to appliances provided under the tenancy agreement unless the damage was caused by the tenant’s deliberate actions or negligence.

Tenants should report any damage on the property. If they fail to do this, they could find themselves held liable for any further damage due to lack of immediate attention to the initial problem. Furthermore, tenants are obliged to provide access for contractors to effect repairs.

Conclusion

If there is a water leak on the property, it would most likely be the landlord’s responsibility to fix. It is advisable for tenants to read and understand the lease agreement fully and for landlords to list as much as possible that needs to be maintained by the tenant. For example, if the unit has a garden that the tenant is responsible for maintaining, this should be mentioned in the lease.

Reference:

CAN I SUE SOMEONE IF THEY INSULT ME?

Being insulted by another person can be hurtful, embarrassing and damaging. Much of the time we’re told just to develop a thicker skin and move on, but what if the insult is an attack on you or your ability as a person? When it goes this far, it can be considered defamation.

  1. Damaging a person’s reputation

In March 2015, the South Gauteng High Court awarded a human resource manager R50 000 in damages, plus legal costs, after she was called a “liar”; and an “unintelligent white girl” (Nadia van der Westhuizen v Morgan Motlogelwa Ntshabelele, case 2014/27063). The court upheld her claim for damages and agreed that she suffered damage to her reputation as a result of the defamatory remarks made by the defendant.

The defendant, who uttered the defamatory remarks in the presence of fellow employees, including the plaintiff, was retrenched by the employer. The defendant later made further utterances that the court held were per se defamatory. The defendant did not oppose the application.

  1. When is it defamation?

A statement is defamatory if it is likely to injure the good esteem in which a person is held by the reasonable average person to whom it has been published. It includes not only statements that expose a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, but also statements that are likely to humiliate or belittle the plaintiff; which tend to make him or her look foolish, ridiculous or absurd or which render the plaintiff less worthy of respect by his or her peers.

  1. What can the court do?

The court may exercise its own discretion when awarding damages. Relevant factors for the court to consider include the seriousness of the defamatory statements, falseness, nature and extent of the publication of the statement, malice, rank or social status, the absence of an apology, motive and the general conduct of the defendant.

The conclusion is that you should be careful what you say to others, especially if what you are saying is not true or has the intention to harm/hurt the other person.

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)

WHAT IF YOU’VE BEEN A VICTIM OF CYBERCRIME?

In the modern age, more and more criminals are exploiting the speed, convenience and anonymity of the internet to commit a diverse range of criminal activities that know no borders, either physical or virtual, and cause serious harm to victims worldwide.

In December 2016, cabinet gave the green light for a Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill that has sparked criticism over its potential to curb a free internet. Cabinet said the bill is about, “combatting cybercrime, establishing capacity to deal with cybersecurity and protecting critical information infrastructures”.

What is cybercrime?

Cybercrime takes many different forms, such as using financial information to commit an offence, unlawful interception of data, computer related forgery, extortion, terrorist activity and the distribution of ‘harmful’ data messages.

Hackers can get access to your computer by simply sending you an e-mail that automatically causes malware software to download as you open the mail. The hacker then has full access to your computer and the data in it and can lock you out. So, what should you do if you have been a victim of cybercrime?

  1. Disconnect: If you’re a victim of a hack, then you should disconnect from the Internet immediately. If you’re connected via Wi-Fi, phone or Ethernet cable, you need to disable the connection as soon as possible.
  2. Scan your PC: It’s a good idea to have antivirus software to scan your computer.
  3. Create a backup: Create regular backups of your files and folders.
  4. Reinstall your operating system: Depending on the severity of the attack, it might be necessary to reinstall the operating system of your computer.

Online Fraud

If you’ve been a victim of online fraud, such as your credit card information being stolen, then try the following:

  1. Close all accounts: If you find that you are the victim of online fraud or identity theft, the first thing you should do is close all affected accounts immediately.
  2. Contact your bank: By contacting your bank, you can notify them regarding the fraud and its source. They can also assist you in recovering any stolen finances and issuing new cards.

The new Cyber and Security Bill creates about 50 new offences for crimes such as hacking, using financial information to commit an offence, unlawful interception of data, computer related forgery, extortion, terrorist activity and distribution of ‘harmful’ data messages. Hopefully, this will help curb the growth of illicit online activities.

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)

DO MY DEBTS LAST FOREVER?

Prescription was introduced as means of protecting South African consumers from dishonest credit providers, who are responsible for recklessly lending credit and have contributed to the detrimental debt crisis many South Africans face today.

What does prescription mean?

  • The Prescription Act 68 of 1969 (PA) says that a debt (payment of money) is extinguished/expired after the lapse (passing) of a specific time period.
  • South Africa has different laws which specify time periods, for example, the PA says contractual and delictual debts extinguish after 3 years from when prescription starts.
  • Prescription may be delayed or interrupted.

It is important to bear in mind that not all debt prescribes after a period of three years. Debt related to a cheque, for example, only prescribes after 6 years. The purpose of prescription in South Africa is to compel creditors and collections agents to collect money owed to them within a specified period and not delay collection so that it accumulates massive amounts of interest and costs.

What are the consequences of an extinguished debt?

  • The debtor is not liable to the creditor for a debt after the time period has lapsed.
  • The creditor may not institute legal action against the debtor for a debt.

When does prescription start?

As soon as the debt is due (a debt is due once the creditor can identify the debtor and the facts from which the debt arises).

  • If the debtor prevents the creditor from gaining knowledge of the debt (excluding debts arising from agreements) prescription runs from when the creditor has knowledge of the existence of the debt.

An important point to remember is that it’s perfectly legal for a debt collector or attorney to demand payment for a prescribed debt. It is up to a debtor to raise prescription as a defence.

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)