Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa v CCMA (JR1654/13) [2015] ZALCJHB 409 (5 August 2015) per Boda AJ.

Using language that is completely inappropriate when dealing with employees can cause managers to believe they are above the civil law.  Managers then think they are in a ‘superior’ position and have the right to impugn the dignity of employees and ‘punish’ them.  This excerpt and the judgment itself provides a good example of how thinking is shaped by the incorrect use of language.  The employee was ‘charged’ with  seven ‘charges’ all relating to alleged breaches, rather than anything remotely similar to a crime.

“By looking at the charge sheets in a very technical fashion, the arbitrator also ignored a host of authorities that has come from the Labour Appeal Court that indicate to arbitrators that employers would not draft charge sheets with a modicum of specificity that one would be used to in say civil proceedings when people draw pleadings or in criminal proceedings when prosecutors draw charge sheets. Employers are often laypersons and they draft charge sheets; as long as the charge sheet captures the essence of the complaint. The arbitrator must then deal with that complaint. And the Act enjoins the arbitrator to do so with a minimum amount of legal formalities. The arbitrator must have regard to the substance of the dispute”.