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Workplace: Load shedding 'joke' costs worker his job

A recent case before the CCMA – National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa obo Mahlangeni v Ford Motor Company SA (Pty) Ltd (2023) 32 CCMA – shows that employees have to be careful when making so-called ‘jokes’ on social media channels. In the case, the applicant was employed as an operator at the Ford Motor Company of SA. In May 2023, the employee sent a message on a WhatsApp group with 47 employees, saying: ‘Due to the stage six load shedding, the Ford Struandale Engine Plant would, on 3 May 2023, be closed for the afternoon and night shift from 8 pm until 6 am on the following morning’. In addition, the message stated that 'the affected shifts would be placed on a lay-off on Wednesday, 3 May 2023 and that in the absence of any changes, the affected employees would be required to come to work on the following day, 4 May 2023’.

BusinenssTech reports the company subsequently dismissed the employee for misconduct. The applicant, a member of the National Union of Metalworkers, took the matter to the CCMA, challenging the substantive fairness of his dismissal at the CCMA. The commissioner referred to the Code of Good Practice: Dismissal of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), emphasizing that the code provides that ‘employers and employees should treat each other with mutual respect' and that 'employers are entitled to satisfactory conduct and work performance from their employees’.

Referring to Mahlangeni's misconduct, the commissioner stated that employees who are part of the group would have believed that false message given the context above, and this would have deterred them from coming to work. This would have affected Ford's production, resulted in them not meeting their daily targets and caused irreparable harm. According to the commissioner, Mahlangeni was also dishonest in that the posting of the message was deliberate and a calculated effort. The fact that the message was deleted did not rescue Mahlangeni in that it should never have been posted. The commissioner, therefore, held that dismissal was an appropriate sanction and substantively fair given the severity of the misconduct. Employees who post messages on their employer's social media groups must consider the impact of same on the employer and other employees.

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