When a new broom sweeps too briskly

Can an employer dismiss a competent manager who causes disharmony in the workplace?

Can an employer dismiss a competent manager who causes disharmony in the workplace?

The appointment of a new manager in a company may result in him or her making sweeping changes in an attempt to steer the company in a new direction.

The new manager is hard working, committed to the growth of the company, and the changes that he or she has introduced are delivering good results. However, he or she lacks the ability to communicate these changes to staff members, resulting in low morale and mass exits of long-serving, dedicated and competent staff members.

The company might also bear an additional cost-burden in that new recruits may leave too because of the manager. This situation can have disastrous consequences on the profitability of the company.

This lack of interpersonal skills is generally referred to as incompatibility. Incompatibility is defined as "the inability on the part of an employee to work in harmony either within the corporate culture of the business or with a fellow employee".

A line of court decisions going back to the Industrial Court, as well as the more recent Labour Court decision of Jabari vs Telkom SA (Pty) Ltd, have made it clear that an employer has the prerogative to set reasonable standards pertaining to the harmonious relationships in the workplace. In CSIR vs Fijen the Labour Court held that there is an implied duty on the employee to not act in a way that causes a breakdown in the employment relationship.

Where the conduct of an employee creates disharmony in the workplace, an employer is entitled to take steps to address the situation which might result in a dismissal.

The following guidelines were laid down by the Labour Court when charging an employee with incompatibility.

The employee must be:

l advised what type of conduct allegedly causes disharmony and who has been upset;

l what remedial action is suggested by the employer to remove the incompatibility;

l given a fair opportunity to consider the allegations and prepare his reply thereto;

l given an opportunity to present his version; and

l Where he or she is found to be responsible for the disharmony the employee must be given a fair opportunity to remove its cause.

Handling interpersonal conflict caused by an otherwise competent manager might be challenging, but failure to address it can affect the company's overall performance and it is essential to deal with him/her in the appropriate manner.

lLavery Modise, director at Routledge Modise Attorneys, and Felicia van Rooi, senior associate at Routledge Modise Attorneys.