Our Brave New World: Using Zoom for Retrenchment Consultations

Our Brave New World: Using Zoom for Retrenchment Consultations

“O brave new world” (Shakespeare)

The COVID-19 pandemic will doubtless lead to many new developments on the legal front.

For example, with widespread employee retrenchment now an unfortunate reality in our struggling economy, all employers, employees and trade unions should know of an important new Labour Court decision validating the use of remote conferencing for the retrenchment consultation process. 

The consultation process, rudely interrupted
  • An employer decided in January 2020 that it needed to restructure its business operations, which prompted it to contemplate dismissal of employees based on operational requirements. 
  • The next step in terms of the Labour Relations Act was to enter into a meaningful consultation process with employees and/or their representatives, aimed at discussing and seeking consensus on possible alternatives to retrenchment, minimizing dismissals, severance pay etc. 
  • This being a large scale retrenchment proposal the employer issued a formal notice inviting consultation and requested facilitation of the consultation process. A facilitator was appointed and several physical meetings were held. 
  • Before the final consultation meeting could be held however the process was rudely interrupted by the declaration of a National State of Disaster and the consequent lockdown and restrictions on gatherings. 
  • The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) proposed methods by which the process might continue, including usage of Zoom, but the trade union in question refused to participate via Zoom and the employer proceeded with the meeting in its absence. 
  • When the employer then issued notices of retrenchment, the union applied urgently to the Labour Court to declare the process procedurally unfair.
Our “new normal”

“With the advent of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the “new normal” presented itself” (extract from Labour Court judgment)

Commenting on the irony of the union complaining about “the efficacy and reliability” of Zoom whilst using it to make its own urgent application to court, and noting that the facilitator, with “powers to make a final and binding ruling on procedure”, was not averse to using Zoom for the meeting, the Court found that the union had refused to participate in the consultation process through no fault of the employer’s. 

As the Court put it: “With the new normal – lockdown period during Covid-19 pandemic – zoom is the appropriate form in which meetings can take place. What is involved in this period is the health and safety issue … It is a necessary tool to ensure that restrictions like social distancing as a measure to avoid the spread of the virus are observed.”

Accordingly there was no procedural unfairness and the union’s application was dismissed. 

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Unemployed, Can’t Pay Bond and Credit Instalments? “Credit Life Insurance” May Save You

Unemployed, Can’t Pay Bond and Credit Instalments? “Credit Life Insurance” May Save You

If you are one of the many employees retrenched or put on short pay or unpaid leave as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown, you will be wondering how to cover the monthly instalments on your mortgage bond and other credit agreements. You have no doubt heard of the “payment holidays” banks are offering, but remember that although these are a lot better than losing your house, car etc, they are no free lunch. Interest and fees will still be building up.

Credit life insurance is not just death cover

That’s why you need to check right now whether or not any of your credit agreements are covered by “credit life insurance”. Many people don’t even realise they have this cover in place, and those that do may look at the “life” part of the name and think “well that’s no good to me or my family, I’m unemployed not dead”. The good news there is that most policies cover a host of other events leaving you unable to pay instalments – see below for more.

Do you have cover?

You may well have this cover in place without even realising it because it is commonly required when you take out any form of credit – think mortgage bonds, vehicle finance, credit cards, retail credit (store cards etc) and so on. 

If you aren’t sure, check your latest bond or credit statement for any sign of an insurance premium deduction (it may be called “balance protection” or the like). Then contact the bank (or whichever credit grantor you are with) and ask them to check. You may not have it for example if at the time you ceded another life policy to the credit grantor.

What are you covered for?

Check what the terms of your particular policy are, but the minimum cover required by National Credit Act Regulations (which only affect credit agreements entered into on or after 9 August 2017) is –

  • Death or permanent disability: The outstanding balance of your total obligations under the credit agreement is covered.
  • Unemployment or inability to earn an income: You are covered until you find employment or are able to earn an income, with a maximum of 12 months’ instalments. 
  • On temporary disability: You are covered until you are no longer disabled, with a maximum of 12 months’ instalments.

Exclusions – the Regulations allow a long list of exclusions to be incorporated in your policy so check which apply to you. Most of them are common sense – for example lawful dismissal, retirement or resignation from employment – but if you are told that a particular exclusion applies to you and you don’t agree ask your professional advisor for advice before conceding anything. Employers may be able to assist in this regard when structuring crisis outcomes with staff, but remember to do so only after taking your own legal advice! 

Self-employed people and pensioners should check what cover they have under their particular policy, and what terms apply to them.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

COVID-19: Small Businesses, Employment Laws, and Survival Support

COVID-19: Small Businesses, Employment Laws, and Survival Support

“The secret of crisis management is not good vs. bad, it’s preventing the bad from getting worse” (Andy Gilman)

We can only guess at how the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak will end, but let’s all take whatever concrete steps we can right now to lessen its impact on our personal lives, on our businesses, and on our country. 

One of those steps is for businesses to find ways of continuing to operate as normally as possible, given of course the exceptional times we are living through. And as employers, many businesses will find themselves facing some novel challenges, particularly during the National Lockdown…

Small businesses – the new relief programs

A whole raft of support and relief programs has been announced. Some still need to be finalised and the situation is changing daily, so keep an eye on the media and incorporate into your business survival plan all relief channels you think may be open to you. At date of writing, these are the main ones –

  • The DSBD (Department of Small Business Development) will provide relief to businesses in several categories. Call the DSBD on its 0860 663 7867 hotline or email [email protected] to see if you quality. Apply at https://smmesa.gov.za/.
  • The DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is set to provide relief for large businesses as well as small. Keep an eye on the DTI’s website for developments.
  • The Solidarity Fund has been set up with R150 million from the government to, amongst other things, assist and support those affected (contact details here).
  • Employer and employee relief: Access the “Easy Guide for employers on COVID19” here and read up on the “Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme” and UIF benefits from a special R30bn National Disaster Benefit Fund. Confirmation that employees who fall victim to the virus will be paid through the Compensation Fund – details here.
  • Other funds and relief measures: The Rupert and Oppenheimer families have pledged R1 billion each to help struggling small businesses and employees – the details are not available at date of writing. Read the President’s speech here for more on planned or implemented measures involving tax relief, changes to the Competition Act, a fund to support the tourism sector, and more.
Employers – comply with the law! 

From a legal perspective, employers in particular need to have a solid action plan in place to ensure that they comply with all our many employment laws, which will continue to apply as is, unless and until government announces any new measures to the contrary.

Detailed planning will not be easy. With the situation changing daily, keep informed of developments and keep all your plans flexible.

In any event there is unfortunately no “one size fits all” answer to questions like “Can I dismiss an employee who tests positive for COVID-19?”, “Can my employees insist on working from home?”, “Can I start retrenching?”, “Can I prohibit employees from travelling abroad for personal reasons?”, “What steps must I take to ensure a safe working environment and what rules can I put in place to underpin them?”.

The list is endless and the answers to these questions will depend upon your Lockdown exemption status, your particular employment contracts, business circumstances, operational needs, and so on. 

Your employee action plan

We need to get used to constant change and uncertainty, but there are steps you can take now to plan for as many eventualities as possible – 

  1. As a start, incorporate into your “COVID-19 Business Plan” all the possible scenarios you can think of, both during the National Lockdown and after it ends.
  2. Then brainstorm – with your employees where you can – a list of all the employment-related problems you and they might face. Use that in turn to make a list of questions you will need the answers to under each scenario.
  3. Then, make sure you are fully prepared to deal with whatever may come your way by taking specific legal advice on each and every one of those questions. 

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

How to Stop an Ex-Director from Competing With You

How to Stop an Ex-Director from Competing With You

“…the default position is that an executive director or a senior employee may not carry on business activities which fall within the scope of his company’s business during the time when he serves as director or works as employee.  The default position however changes on resignation.” (Extract from judgment below)

What happens if relations between you and your fellow company directors sour to the extent that a director leaves? Can he or she immediately open up a new business in direct competition to you? 

A recent High Court decision both addresses that knotty question, and highlights a quick and easy solution.

Fishing for business: “Big Catch” claims R24m
  • Big Catch Fishing Tackle (Pty) Ltd markets and hosts fishing and fly fishing tours in both local and international waters.
  • The company’s two directors and shareholders fell out, culminating in one director accusing the other of serious breaches of his duties as director. 
  • Although hotly disputing any wrongdoing he resigned his directorship (under, he says, duress and coercion). He remains a shareholder. 
  • Big Catch is now suing the ex-director for some R24m in “past” and “future” damages, relying on disputed claims of improper or unlawful conduct which include the channeling away of business from Big Catch, misappropriating stock, diverting payment of commissions and acting recklessly and without authority. Whether or not these allegations will be proved eventually will only be determined when the main case finally goes to trial. 
  • What is of interest to us at this stage is Big Catch’s interim application to the High Court to interdict the ex-director and his new business (Upstream Fly Fishing) from competing with Big Catch.
Ex-director off the hook 
  • Directors have a range of fiduciary duties towards their companies. They must at all times act in good faith and in the best interests of the company. They must avoid conflicts of interest. They cannot compete with the company nor make secret profits. “The default position”, as the Court in this case put it, “is that an executive director or a senior employee may not carry on business activities which fall within the scope of his company’s business during the time when he serves as director or works as employee.” 
  • Big Catch had to convince the Court that those duties survive resignation unchanged. But, held the Court, that “default position” changes on resignation and “the director or employee does not commit a breach of his fiduciary duty merely because he takes steps to ensure that, on ceasing to be a director or employee, he can continue to make a living even by setting up a business in competition with his former company or by joining a competitor and then pursuing opportunities similar in nature to those targeted by his former company.”
  • Although a director’s fiduciary duty does indeed survive departure, “the content of that duty does not remain the same … The duty will only be breached after resignation if it involves the use of confidential information or violates an interest of the company that is worthy of protection in some other way” (emphasis supplied). 
  • In other words, a company cannot simply say “our ex-director is breaching an ongoing fiduciary duty towards us”, it must go further and actively prove a right to protection. Big Catch in this case being unable to make out its case, the Court dismissed the application with costs and the ex-director is off the hook, at least for now.
Big Catch’s big mistake – no restraints of trade

Round 1 therefore to the ex-director; a victory made easier by Big Catch’s failure to put restraints of trade in place for all its directors and senior employees. 

As the Court put it “…in the absence of a restraint of trade, the onus shifts to the director’s former company to justify the interdict both in law and in fact” and “…a company that wishes to prevent a director or employee from competing with it after resignation should either do so by way of imposing a reasonable restraint of trade or it will have to persuade a Court that it has an interest worthy of protection, such as confidential information, client lists or connections, that justifies an interdict.”

Bottom line – make protecting your company easy with restraints of trade!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

How to Stop an Ex-Director from Competing With You

How to Stop an Ex-Director from Competing With You

“…the default position is that an executive director or a senior employee may not carry on business activities which fall within the scope of his company’s business during the time when he serves as director or works as employee.  The default position however changes on resignation.” (Extract from judgment below)

What happens if relations between you and your fellow company directors sour to the extent that a director leaves? Can he or she immediately open up a new business in direct competition to you? 

A recent High Court decision both addresses that knotty question, and highlights a quick and easy solution.

Fishing for business: “Big Catch” claims R24m
  • Big Catch Fishing Tackle (Pty) Ltd markets and hosts fishing and fly fishing tours in both local and international waters.
  • The company’s two directors and shareholders fell out, culminating in one director accusing the other of serious breaches of his duties as director. 
  • Although hotly disputing any wrongdoing he resigned his directorship (under, he says, duress and coercion). He remains a shareholder. 
  • Big Catch is now suing the ex-director for some R24m in “past” and “future” damages, relying on disputed claims of improper or unlawful conduct which include the channeling away of business from Big Catch, misappropriating stock, diverting payment of commissions and acting recklessly and without authority. Whether or not these allegations will be proved eventually will only be determined when the main case finally goes to trial. 
  • What is of interest to us at this stage is Big Catch’s interim application to the High Court to interdict the ex-director and his new business (Upstream Fly Fishing) from competing with Big Catch.
Ex-director off the hook 
  • Directors have a range of fiduciary duties towards their companies. They must at all times act in good faith and in the best interests of the company. They must avoid conflicts of interest. They cannot compete with the company nor make secret profits. “The default position”, as the Court in this case put it, “is that an executive director or a senior employee may not carry on business activities which fall within the scope of his company’s business during the time when he serves as director or works as employee.” 
  • Big Catch had to convince the Court that those duties survive resignation unchanged. But, held the Court, that “default position” changes on resignation and “the director or employee does not commit a breach of his fiduciary duty merely because he takes steps to ensure that, on ceasing to be a director or employee, he can continue to make a living even by setting up a business in competition with his former company or by joining a competitor and then pursuing opportunities similar in nature to those targeted by his former company.”
  • Although a director’s fiduciary duty does indeed survive departure, “the content of that duty does not remain the same … The duty will only be breached after resignation if it involves the use of confidential information or violates an interest of the company that is worthy of protection in some other way” (emphasis supplied).
  • In other words, a company cannot simply say “our ex-director is breaching an ongoing fiduciary duty towards us”, it must go further and actively prove a right to protection. Big Catch in this case being unable to make out its case, the Court dismissed the application with costs and the ex-director is off the hook, at least for now.
Big Catch’s big mistake – no restraints of trade

Round 1 therefore to the ex-director; a victory made easier by Big Catch’s failure to put restraints of trade in place for all its directors and senior employees. 

As the Court put it “…in the absence of a restraint of trade, the onus shifts to the director’s former company to justify the interdict both in law and in fact” and “…a company that wishes to prevent a director or employee from competing with it after resignation should either do so by way of imposing a reasonable restraint of trade or it will have to persuade a Court that it has an interest worthy of protection, such as confidential information, client lists or connections, that justifies an interdict.”

Bottom line – make protecting your company easy with restraints of trade!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Employees: Your New Rights to Paternity and Parental Leave

Employees: Your New Rights to Paternity and Parental Leave

“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one” (Psychologist Leo J Burke)

It has taken over a year of confusion and delay around when new changes will be implemented, but finally your extended rights to parental leave and to an Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claim have fully commence.

Here’s an update/refresher –

  • New mothers are still entitled to 4 consecutive months’ maternity leave.
  • New “parents” (which would include fathers and same-sex partners) are entitled to 10 consecutive days’ “parental leave”.
  • An adoptive parent of a child under 2 years old is entitled to 10 consecutive weeks’ adoption leave. Where there are two adoptive parents, the other is entitled to only the 10 consecutive days’ “parental leave” (the two adoptive parents should decide between them who gets 10 weeks and who gets 10 days).
  • Commissioning parents in a surrogacy agreement have the same entitlements as adoptive parents.
  • The law does not force your employer to give you paid leave – the above entitlements are for unpaid leave only. So unless your employment contract entitles you to paid leave you are limited to claiming from the UIF (assuming you are a qualifying contributor). That will give you 66% of your salary subject to a standard earnings cap.

And a note for employers: if you haven’t already done so, take advice now on reviewing your maternity and parental leave policies.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

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