Workplace disputes

Employers have a duty to protect their staff.   They have a duty to provide a safe working environment, free from bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment and any other conflict.   There are certain types of workplace conflict in which any company would be well-advised to offer mediation as a means of dispute resolution.

What many employers don’t realise is that they are vicariously liable for the actions of their staff against fellow staff members, as was recently illustrated in PE vs Ikwezi Municipality Xola Vincent Jack says PJ Veldhuizen, Managing Director of Gillan & Veldhuizen.  The case involved a municipality which accepted that a staff member accused of sexually harassing another staff member was found by the Chairperson of the disciplinary commitee to be guilty, but was not dismissed. 

The court found that the failure to take the Chairperson’s decision on appeal and seek the dismissal of the employee, was conduct unbecoming of the employer and failed to meet the benchmark of a safe working environment of the sexually harassed employee.

Employers are encouraged to take employee grievances seriously and to, in appropriate cases, employ the services of a trained workplace mediator to resolve differences between staff members before they escalate to a level of what could be construed as the constructive dismissal of an aggrieved employee. In other words – in a situation where an aggrieved employee feels that the workplace conditions have become so intolerable as to constitute an employer’s effectively dismissing him/her or leaving him/her with no other option but to resign. 

Veldhuizen says that virtually any differences that arise in the workplace can benefit from mediation if the parties are willing to deal directly with each other and if the company provides the resources.  Equally, employees need to be aware of their rights and request mediation when other avenues have been exhausted or have proved unsuccessful.   Mediation also alleviates expensive litigation costs and creates an environment in which employees feel more secure knowing that their employer takes their well-being seriously.

Workplace Mediation offers important benefits to employers and employees alike and can be a very effective strategy in assisting parties to identify issues in dispute early on and work towards a mutually satisfactory resolution.

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