Introduction - Employment Law Feature November 2020 November 2020

By MYRLE VANDERSTRAETEN, Published in Employment Law - Feature

There have been many comments made that this is an exciting time in which to be involved in Employment Law. COVID-19 brought in its wake considerable change and challenges previously not considered.

Undoubtedly an increasingly diverse and demanding area, there are many other laws that impact directly on actions that both employees and employers may take.

The impact of COVID-19, the lockdown, and the unanticipated consequences of a dramatic change to life as we knew it, demanded a rethink of how to run a business from a distance. Laws relating to employment, tech off-site, confidentiality, security, access to information and, of course, company law are just a few that have required interrogation.

The raw reality of the impact of COVID-19 can be viewed from figures. The CCMA's 2018-2019 financial report shows 38 588 workers subject to s189a retrenchments. This year, between April 1 and June 25, 98 818 workers had been subject to s189a retrenchments. Those affected will be across the board – well-paid individuals with many commitments and those who live from month-to-month. Practitioners are warning employers to ensure their actions are taken honestly and with empathy; those who dismiss staff without just cause will find themselves in considerable trouble as will those who do not adhere to the letter and the spirit of the law when it comes to retrenchment. Companies are being asked to seriously consider the impact of retrenchment on the dignity and well-being – both physical and mental – of employees.

According to Stats SA, 648 000 jobs were lost in the formal non-agricultural sector in the second quarter of 2020. The business services industry reported a 147 000 loss. These figures should be viewed with caution since data is generally collected via email and telephone and, during this period, the Stats SA offices were partially closed.

However, while aspects of employment and related laws may change as a result of the coronavirus, this is only one of the areas considered by the articles on this dynamic area of law. In our diverse world, the rights of all to attain equality because of ability may have been knocked out of the spotlight by a global pandemic, but it is not off the agenda and firms would be wise to be vigilant.

I am, as always, indebted to those practitioners who took time out of their busy and now even more challenging schedules to write for without prejudice. Those who write also know that knowledge shared results in goodwill beyond monetary value and assists those without the benefit of large law firm diverse practice areas.