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Is incompatibility a valid reason for dismissing an employee?

by , 19 July 2013
Incompatibility is the inability of your employee to work in harmony either within the corporate culture of your business or with fellow employees. As a result of this, productivity can be affected. But is incompatibility between your employees a valid reason for dismissal? Read on to find out when the courts will uphold a dismissal based on incompatibility.

It's crucial that you know your rights and your employee's rights when it comes to incompatibility. One wrong move could land you at the labour court.

So when is it acceptable to dismiss an employee based on incompatibility?

According to the Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service, the Labour Relations Act (LRA) doesn't specifically recognise incompatibility as a valid reason for dismissal. That's because incompatibility doesn't easily fit into one of the three recognised categories for dismissal (misconduct, incapacity or operational requirements of the employer).

But in certain circumstances, provided you follow the prescribed procedures for fair dismissal and depending on the circumstances, you can dismiss an employee for reasons based on incompatibility.

This is when the courts will uphold a dismissal based on incompatibility

There's no doubt incompatibility can in certain circumstances cause serious problems in the workplace that would justify dismissal.

The most common form of incompatibility is when a co-worker or group of co-workers refuse to continue working with the employee because of alleged incompatibility.

Here's an example of how the courts have ruled on incompatibility: In the case of Lebowa Platinum Mines Ltd v Hill (1998) co-workers demanded the dismissal of an employee who'd insulted one of his subordinates. The employees' trade union threatened the employer with industrial action if it didn't dismiss the employee. Lebowa dismissed the employee on the basis of incompatibility.

The Labour Appeal Court found the dismissal to be fair in the circumstances.

One word of caution: A rigorous test however is applied in such circumstances. The dismissal will only be fair if:

  • A good and sufficient foundation exists for the demand that your employee be dismissed;
  • The third party's demand is backed by a real and serious threat; and
  • The dismissal is the only option that's fair to both you and your employee. In addition, you're also required to investigate and consider all alternatives to dismissal in consultation with the employee concerned.

Knowing when you can dismiss an employee for incompatibility will ensure you don't dismiss an employee unfairly.

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