Most business owners and business leaders have (or will at some point in their career) experienced a disgruntled employee. Such employees exhibit dissatisfaction with aspects of their job and are prone to verbalizing their discontent. Where a mutually satisfactory resolution can be found for the source of the discontent, the employee – employer relationship moves forward and the discontent is usually left in the past.
Disgruntled employees are a cause for concern for any manager or business owner, as such team members vocalize their issues, which can in turn damage team morale and workplace harmony. In a recent case dealt with by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the Commission was presented with a case where a consistently disgruntled employee was terminated by the employer, due to incompatibility.
In this blog, we explore the facts of the case and unpack the ruling to understand the implications of employee incompatibility in the workplace.
- The employee in this case had over time repeatedly lodged complaints and displayed aggression toward the employer.
- The employee asserted that the complaints lodged were as a result of the poor work performance assessed by his employer.
- Personal financial problems and issues at home raised by the employee previously, as the reason for the poor performance, had been dealt with by the employer through the process of the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services. The outcome of this process (duly evidenced) was that the employee was fit to perform his function.
- Subsequent to the Counselling process, the employee continued raising issues previously dealt with and rejected the advice offered, despite the employer valiantly attempting to support the employee. Poor work performance persisted.
- The employer and employee then met in a conciliatory meeting and agreed to “bury old wounds”. Despite this, the employee continued filing grievances, resulting in a breakdown of the employee – employer relationship, with the employee still failing to obey instructions and displaying aggressive behaviour.
- The employer’s disciplinary code detailed incompatibility as a disciplinary offence, although the employee denied knowledge thereof.
In the case of Jabari v Telkom SA (Pty) Ltd  10 BLLR 924 (LC), the Labour Court highlighted key characteristics in clarifying the nature of workplace compatibility. It had said that “…incompatibility refers to the employee’s inability or failure to maintain cordial and harmonious relationships with his peers, incompatibility is an “amorphous nebulous concept” based on subjective value judgements.”
Because the employee had been found to have disrupted workplace harmony, the Commissioner drew on the Labour Court findings in the Jabari case and found that the dismissal was warranted. Although the employee had been counselled, he had not cooperated with remedial measures agreed and displayed disruptive behaviours, for example refusing to sign minutes of meetings held.
For incompatibility to be relied on as a reason for dismissal, the disciplinary code in effect must list this as a disciplinary offence.
Every business requires harmony to survive and thrive. Employers should protect themselves with appropriate disciplinary measures to ensure dismissal of such employees is legitimately available to them where incompatibility disrupts the workplace.
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