Mr. Ashley Mezichel (“Employee”) was employed at the South African Police Service (“SAPS”) in the capacity of legal advisor. During or about September 2013, the Employee absconded from work, falsified his signing-in sheet on numerous occasions, and further left work without following the proper protocol.
In light of the above, he was summoned to a disciplinary hearing on or about 6 November 2013, to face several charges. It was common cause that the Employee had a drinking problem that had affected his work negatively, however, at the disciplinary hearing he further presented additional personal circumstances, namely, that his wife had instituted divorce proceedings, he was receiving psychiatric treatment and that his girlfriend was pregnant (collectively referred to as “Mitigation Factors”).
On or about 29 January 2014, the Employee was found guilty of various contraventions of the SAPS disciplinary code and dismissed. On or about 4 June 2014, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (“POPCRU”) noted an appeal on behalf of the Employee against the findings of the disciplinary hearing with SAPS internal appeal authority (“Appeal Authority”). Pursuant to which the Appeal Authority confirmed the guilty finding against the Employee, however, taking into account the Employee’s Mitigating Factors the Labour Court reversed the sanction of dismissal against him and replaced same with a suspension of six months. In addition, this finding was confirmed by Labour Court.
On appeal at the Labour Appeal Court, SAPS contended that the Appeal Authority and the Labour Court did not properly consider the seriousness of the Employee’s transgressions in the context of his position within SAPS, (when overturning the sanctions).
The Labour Appeals Court held that the Employee had succumbed to his personal difficulties and had acted fraudulently in a manner that made him wholly unreliable as a police officer, a lawyer and an employee. Accordingly, dismissal was the only sensible and rational response by the employer.
This case illustrates that personal circumstances of an employee may render one unable to continue with employment in certain circumstances and as such, an employer may be within his rights to subject the employee to disciplinary processes if the personal circumstances and the conduct of the employee are so grave that it is not possible to continue the working relationship.
Written by AYANDA D KATJITAE and supervised by MUSA MATHEBULA, 7 February 2019