Suspension of an employee is a standard tool employers use to maintain workplace discipline and address misconduct within the workplace. However, when these “suspensions” are not executed in accordance with the Labour Relations Act (LRA) employers might find themselves in breach of section 186(2)(b) by committing an unfair labour practice.
In addition to arguably the most severe consequence of an unfair suspension, being the financial strain this may have on the employer, it may also lead to possible legal repercussions for employers. Employers may render themselves open for discrimination claims and severe reputational damage based on negative employee morale and overall tainted employee relations.
Legal Fees and Compensation in Unfair Suspensions
The financial implications of an unfair suspension may include legal fees for defending unfair suspension matters and compensation awarded to the employee should the company be found guilty of an unfair labour practice.
In Suzanne Daniels v Eskom SOC Ltd (March 2018), the employee was allegedly unfairly suspended, even though she had been suspended with full pay. The commissioner ruled that the suspension was punitive in nature rather than precautionary and ordered Eskom to pay the employee compensation equivalent to 5 months’ compensation.
Mitigating Risks and Ensuring Fairness
To mitigate these consequences, employers should ensure that suspensions be imposed as a precautionary measure pending a disciplinary inquiry/disciplinary action, with full pay and
are based on legitimate reasons to justify the suspension, such as:
a) If the employee is likely to interfere with investigations,
b) If the employee is likely to tamper with evidence,
c) If the employee is likely to influence or threaten witnesses or fellow employees.
d) Disrupt the workplace, Or
e) Where the trust relationship has been irrevocably broken beyond repair.
Employers are urged to ensure that they follow the correct procedure when suspending an employee, that the employee understands the reason for the suspension, that there is in fact, a valid reason for the suspension and that the employee in question is provided an opportunity to make representations regarding the suspension.
It is clear from the above that companies must follow the set legal requirements relating to the suspension procedure to avoid unnecessary risks and pitfalls coupled with the unfair suspension of an employee.
If you require more information about the fair labour practice and/or the Labour Relations Act (LRA), feel free to speak to our legal team. Contact our Call Centre at 0861 737 263 for expert guidance and support.