Double trouble: Consulting for a fair retrenchment

Author: Prof Rochelle le Roux
Director of the Institute of Development and Labour Law; Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town (UCT)

Most employers and employees have a broad understanding that the fairness of a dismissal rests on both a substantive and a procedural leg.

On the one hand, substantive unfairness, in broad strokes, suggests that an employee who should not have been dismissed, had been dismissed.

The legislature had chosen to express substantive fairness with reference to the employee’s misconduct or incapacity and the operational requirements of the employer. A dismissal for the latter reason is often referred to as retrenchment.

On the other hand, procedural unfairness implies that the employee had not been given an opportunity to be heard by the employer before the dismissal was affected. There is at least one practical reason for distinguishing between procedural and substantive fairness: when a dismissal is unfair only because the employer did not follow a fair procedure, the competent remedy is generally only payment of compensation and not reinstatement as would be the case when the dismissal is either substantively, or both substantively and procedurally, unfair.

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