The far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which unfolded in early 2020, undoubtedly left an indelible mark on global affairs. Its legacy extends beyond disrupting economies to influencing social interactions, governance, and service delivery. Within the justice delivery system, the anticipation of significant jurisprudential developments in response to the pandemic was inevitable. Cases related to COVID-19 matters soon found their way to our courts, shaping legal interpretations and responses.
One recent case that caught the attention of the Labour Court offers insights into the evolving jurisprudence surrounding COVID-19-related disputes. At the heart of the matter was the question of whether the dismissal of an employee constituted an automatically unfair dismissal due to discrimination on arbitrary grounds.
Section 187 of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (LRA) defines an automatically unfair dismissal as one based on grounds listed therein. These include participation in a legal strike, the exercise of rights conferred by the LRA, pregnancy, and unfair discrimination on arbitrary grounds such as race, gender, religion, and more.
In the case of Maasdorp v University of Free State JS647/2022, the applicant contended that his dismissal was a result of unfair discrimination on arbitrary grounds because he had refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The university had implemented a policy in 2021 mandating all employees to be vaccinated, with provisions for exemptions based on stated grounds or the submission of recent negative test results. Additionally, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 obliges employers to provide a safe working environment.
The applicant rejected both options and was subsequently denied entry into the workplace, leading to disciplinary measures and eventual dismissal. The case proceeded to the CCMA, which ruled out jurisdiction. Subsequently, the matter reached the Labour Court, albeit with a slight delay.
The Labour Court ruled that the policy was not arbitrary; it was based on empirical evidence and legislative demands. Therefore, the court found no jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter, concluding that the dismissal was not automatically unfair due to discrimination on arbitrary grounds. A similar approach was taken in DBT Technologies (Pty) Ltd v Gamevska (2020) ZALAC 26, where the Labour Appeal Court emphasized a factual causation inquiry to determine dismissal triggers.
This case underscores the importance of seeking legal assistance before bringing matters to court. Professional advice can provide clarity on what constitutes an automatically unfair dismissal, saving time, effort, and financial resources.
For expert assistance in labour law litigation and various other professional legal services, Van Deventer & Van Deventer Inc. is at your service. View our interactive website for a comprehensive overview of our offerings, and feel free to contact us for more information.
The information contained in this site is for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. One should not act nor refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this site without seeking legal or other professional advice. The contents of this site contain general information which may not reflect current legal developments or address one’s situation. We disclaim all liability for actions one may take or fail to take based on any content on this site.
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