Breaking Trust in Employment Relationships | Legal Articles


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Breaking Trust in Employment Relationships

The employment relationship is one based on trust and where the conduct of either parties amounts to a violation of this virtue, it may result in the other party feeling discouraged to play their part in a way that achieves the goals of the arrangement. Dishonesty acts against the wellbeing of an employment relationship and more often than not where such trust is broken, it would require water being turned into wine to restore it back. We shall discuss the case of Lesedi Local Municipality v Mphele and Others (JR1546/20) [2023] ZALCJHB 183 to illustrate the foregoing.

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The applicant (Lesedi Local Municipality) required the services of a Chief Financial Officer, and the respondent (Mphele) was one of the candidates who applied for the post. The respondent went through the recruitment process after which he was subsequently appointed as the successful candidate. It happened that during a forensic audit in 2018, it was unearthed that in fact, the respondent misrepresented some of his qualifications and professional body memberships in his CV/Resume. The applicant instituted disciplinary proceedings and the respondent was subsequently dismissed.

The respondent referred the matter to the CCMA where he offered explanations in response to the inconsistencies, largely attributing them to error as opposed to misrepresentation and/or dishonesty. The CCMA Commissioner ruled in favour of the employee, hinging on the fact that despite the inconsistencies the employee nevertheless met the minimum requirements for the position. The employer had argued that owing to the inconsistencies in the qualifications and professional memberships, the employee had gained an advantage over other candidates in the recruitment process.

The municipality filed a review application in the Labour Court (LC). The Labour Court buttressed that the test was whether, with emphasis on the evidence put before the CCMA Commissioner, a reasonably justifiable decision had been reached using the basis of a reasonable person test (Sidumo and Another v Rustenburg Platinum Mines Ltd and Others (2007) 28 ILJ 2405 (CC). Therefore in this case, with the evidence presented before the CCMA, had the Commissioner reached a decision that a reasonable person would have found to be reasonable and justifiable?

Further, the inquisition should be wary to question whether, even though the employee had satisfied the minimum requirements for the position, had the employee been dishonest in the way he presented his candidacy for the position during the recruitment process.

The LC found in favour of the employer and set aside the decision of the CCMA Commissioner.

Concluding remarks

The relationship between parties in an employment relationship is one where trust is important and any conduct that goes against the grain in betrayal of such trust, may easily result in the breakdown of the relationship. Being a voluntary arrangement, an employment relationship is fragile and any form of dishonesty may result in the relationship disintegrating.

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