Every position or role in an organisation is governed by what is commonly known as job descriptions.
These come in handy during recruitment processes and they act as a guide to the incumbent once a position has been filled. In addition to job descriptions, there are organisational policies and procedures that govern the overall conduct of employees in organisations. These are furthermore provided for in the Employment Act. As you can tell, there is a degree of interdependence amongst the above-mentioned matters, therefore if one is flawed in any way the rest will unfortunately follow suit. This then brings us to the topic of discussion, the element of reasonability. The term reasonable is found in almost every page and every section of the Employment Act. Let’s start with the definition of this term.
The term ‘reasonable’ is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘having sound judgement; fair and sensible’. This is however unfortunately a matter of perception, i.e., what one party may deem sensible, and fair may not necessarily apply to the other. Now, coming to the labour space, how is this term used and why do we say its dicey?
As mentioned above, you can find the word reasonable in almost every section of the Employment Act and for example, Section 21(2) states that ‘The employee shall be deemed to be in breach of a contract of employment if he is absent from work without the prior consent of his employer or his employer’s representative unless he has reasonable cause for such absence and, as soon as it is reasonably practicable to do so, informs his employer or his employer’s representative of that cause.’ How do you determine the issue of reasonability in this case? With most organisations still failing to acknowledge mental health, would a mental breakdown be considered a reasonable cause to be absent from work, as far as the employer is concerned?
Policies and Procedures
The stipulations contained in most company guidelines are from the provisions of the Employment Act. Section 26(3) states that ‘The employee shall be deemed to have waived his right to terminate his contract of employment under subsection (2) unless he exercises it within a reasonable period in all the circumstances after becoming aware of the existence of the ground conferring that right.’ This speaks to the termination of an employment contract by an employee not subject to notice. Again, one contends with the phrase ‘reasonable,’ i.e., how long is a reasonable period?
Employers normally take advantage of the above-mentioned term under this section through the duties to be performed by their employees. The line ‘and perform any other duties as instructed by your supervisor or management’ is a great example of this. It factors in the element of reasonability in the sense that, employers would instruct or assign their employee’s other duties they deem reasonable and in accordance with their job profile. In such cases, the general expectation is that the employee is to comply and perform these duties or assignments in reasonable time, which is normally in accordance with the employer or supervisor’s perception. This leads to an internal dispute waiting to happen.
What seems reasonable from an employer’s point of view may not always be reasonable from an employee’s point of view. The Employment Act unfortunately does not provide a clear-cut explanation as to what exactly the term reasonable implies in various instances. This can lead to employment laws, policies and procedures violations by both employers and employees, without full knowledge of it.
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