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Employers are sick of absenteeism

Labour law allows employers to discipline employees for absenteeism but provides that dismissal should be reserved for cases of serious misconduct or repeated offences.

Even if an employee has already received a final warning, the employer may still not be entitled to dismiss him for being absent again depending on the nature of the job and the circumstances of the lateness. However, the Labour Relations Act does not state under which circumstances it is acceptable to dismiss employees who repeat offences after receiving final warnings.

Since 1998, there have been numerous cases where employees, dismissed for absenteeism, have been reinstated by the CCMA and/or awarded compensation. In the case of NUMSA obo Damons vs Delta Motor Corporation and Another (2003 2 BALR 180 CCMA) the employee was dismissed for repeated absenteeism which, according to the employer’s policy, rendered him unable to fulfil his responsibilities. The employer maintained that it had fully complied with the Sick Absence Control Policy to which the trade union had agreed.

However, the CCMA commissioner ruled that the employer had not complied with its own policy. The commissioner therefore, found the dismissal to be unfair and ordered the employer to reinstate the employee on the same terms and conditions as prevailed prior to the dismissal. In the case of Krouwkamp vs Tanua Technologies (2002 5 BALR 508 CCMA) the employee was dismissed for having been absent without leave for four days. The employer held the disciplinary hearing while the employee was still absent.

The arbitrator held that the employer had not made a proper effort to contact the employee before holding the first hearing. The commissioner accepted the employee’s evidence that she had been ill and found that the employer had acted too hastily. The dismissal was found to be unfair and the employer was required to pay the employee compensation amounting to 12 months’ remuneration.

In Makholoa vs Rustenburg Platinum Mine & Another (2001 4 BALR 362 CCMA) the employee was dismissed for being absent without leave. He had been booked off on sick leave for three days but failed to attend the night shift immediately following this period of illness. As the employee had already received three warnings for absenteeism before this incident he was dismissed.

However, the commissioner accepted the employee’s version that he had been unaware that he had been assigned to night shift on the date in question. The commissioner therefore, decided that the dismissal had been unfair and ordered the employer to reinstate the employee.

The above cases show that, while employees can be dismissed for absenteeism:
•One small mistake on the party of the employer can result in the reinstatement and/or compensation of the employee at the employer’s expense;
•Management must be able to understand the law and their own policies well enough to implement them faultlessly;

•The employer’s failure to follow fair procedure is most likely to work in the employee’s favour;
•If an employer believes that the employee knew that he was supposed to be at work the employer must utilise the appropriate expertise in proving this;
•The failure of employers to use the internal and external labour law experts available to it is likely to cause the employer’s undoing.

Ivan Israelstam is Chief Executive of Labour Law Management Consulting. He may be contacted on (011) 888-7944 or 0828522973 or via e-mail address: Website:

Article by lvan lsraelstam

Maybe find a picture of someone looking at a watch with an angry face or pointing at a clock.

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