Holding out for cash may backfire
An unfairly dismissed employee has no automatic right to compensation while an employer has a right to remedy a wrong
COMPENSATION-hungry and reinstatement-resistant employees may be in for a shock after the Supreme Court of Appeal denied an award of compensation to an employee who had unreasonably refused a genuine offer of reinstatement by her employer after she had been unfairly dismissed.
This case highlights some important aspects relating to unfair dismissals and the remedies provided for in our labour legislation.
These can be summarised follows:
An unfairly dismissed employee only has a right to be considered for remedial measures and has no automatic right to compensation or any other remedy;
An employer has a right to remedy a wrong; therefore once an employer has
as seen the error of its ways it is within that employer’s right to make a genuine offer of reinstatement to an employee to remedy the situation;
Should an employee unreasonably refuse the offer or fail to show that the working relationship had broken down and as a consequence the employee cannot accept reinstatement, the employee runs the risk of not being awarded any compensation.
In the case in question, a Dr Rawlins was dismissed in February 1998 from her employment as a doctor without due process being followed. Her employer, a Dr Kemp, conceded that her dismissal was both procedurally and substantively unfair. She was also not dismissed as a consequence of her pregnancy but rather as a result of her employe’s operational requirements.
Rawlins had, subsequent to her dismissal, obtained employment at a higher salary than what she earned prior to her dismissal. It was not in dispute that Kemp had on three different occasions during the conciliation and litigation process offered to reinstate Rawlins as from the date on which she was due to return to work following her maternity leave and Rawlins had either ignored or categorically refused to accept the offer made. Notwithstanding the offer of reinstatement and her improved earnings, the labour court awarded Rawlins 12 months compensation.
The labour court, in arriving at its decision misdirected itself by placing undue emphasis on how Rawlins was treated by Kemp and the award was clearly punitive in nature. The only issue to consider was whether any compensation should have been awarded and if so, whether the order of 12 months compensation was just.
The Labour Appeal Court found by majority that no compensation should have been awarded at all and therefore set aside the labour court’s decision. The Labour Appeal Court advanced the following reasons for its decision: an employee has no vested right to a remedy in terms of labour legislation. All that the employee has is a right to be considered for a remedy. An employer has a “right to right a wrong”. An employer who had treated an employee unfairly is entitled to remedy that conduct by offering to reinstate the aggrieved employee. Should an employee unreasonably refuse to be reinstated, the employer has a good case in support of no order of compensation being made in favour of the employee.
The Labour Appeal Court did not accept that the relationship was ir-
The Supreme Court of Appeal held that a court’s remedial powers are compensatory and not punitive in nature
reparable between the doctors and rejected Rawlins’s contention that she was unable to work with Kemp in the light of what had transpired between them. This was largely because Rawlins worked at a satellite practice and would not come into regular contact with Kemp and furthermore no objective grounds were advanced as to why the relationship was broken.
The court refused to accept only Rawlins’s subjective perception of the working relationship. On a further appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal held that a court’s remedial powers are compensatory and not punitive in nature and therefore the court was clearly misdirected when making such an order.
The Supreme Court of Appeal, in upholding the Labour Appeal Court’s decision, concurred with its findings and reiterated that the refusal of the repeated offers of reinstatement was unreasonable and as a consequence thereof, the employee only had herself to blame for her financial loss.
An unfairly dismissed employee only has a right to be considered for remedial measures and has no automatic right to compensation or any other remedy An employer has a right to remedy a wrong Should an employee unreasonably not accept reinstatement,...