Empowering young women in the workforce requires providing them with essential knowledge and insight into their workplace rights and obligations. Work contracts and the legal framework governing employment are pivotal components for equitable working conditions and a rewarding professional journey. Here we delve into the significance of employment contracts, some examples of contract types, and basic rights that young women should be well-versed in as they embark on or advance in their careers.
Understanding employment contracts
An job contract is a vital legal document that governs the employment relationship between an employer and an employee. By law, employers must provide a written contract to an employee no later than the first day of employment. An employment contract outlines terms and conditions, which include company policies, benefits, and labour legislation relevant to the employee’s role. It also regulates employee behaviour, incorporating company policies, procedures and disciplinary codes.
Employment contracts need to be updated regularly to reflect changing legislation or conditions. This ensures that both parties are informed and protected. Part-time or temporary workers must also have a contract as long as they are considered employees. Not providing an employee with a contract is illegal and makes it hard to deal with grievances or disputes.
Examples of employment contracts
Fixed term contract
A fixed-term contract specifies a starting and ending date for the employment relationship. Benefits that can affect an employee’s financial well-being, such as pension and medical, may or may not be applicable. Employers sometimes misuse fixed-term contracts to deny employees certain benefits like pension/provident funds, medical aid and severance pay. If fixed-term contracts are renewed repeatedly, workers may gain the ‘right of expectation’, which can protect their job security.
“Rolling over” fixed-term contract
Some employers opt to renew fixed-term contracts as they approach their expiration dates, commonly known as “rolling over” the contract. It’s important to note that this practice isn’t inherently prohibited. Renewing a fixed-term contract once or twice is considered acceptable. However, when a contract is repeatedly rolled over for the third or fourth time, a unique situation arises known as the “right of expectation.”
The “right of expectation” grants the employee the legitimate expectation that their employment situation will continue and the contract will be renewed. If, for any reason, the employer fails to renew the contract and chooses to dismiss the employee instead, strong ground for a claim of unfair dismissal exists. In such cases, the employee may seek recourse by filing a complaint with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA).
Project contracts represent an alternative to conventional fixed-term or temporary contracts. In a project contract, an employee is hired to work on a specific project, and the duration isn’t bound to dates. Instead, the contract revolves around the completion of the project, which could vary in duration, potentially lasting six months, a year, or even longer. The contract typically includes language such as: “The employment shall commence on [stipulated starting date] and shall cease upon the successful completion of the project.”
Termination of an employment contract
There are several reasons for terminating employment contracts, including the expiration of the agreed period, completion of a specified task, mutual agreement, breach of contract, and other circumstances. It’s important to note that for a contract to be terminated, it must be justified on grounds such as misconduct, poor performance and/or incapacity, or the employer’s operational requirements.
Decent work and labour law
An understanding of labour laws is essential in order to be able to make informed decisions before signing a contract. Basic labour rights include:
Annual leave is essential in employment, allowing employees to take a well-earned break and rejuvenate. It is important to understand the basic rules of annual leave to ensure parties know their rights and responsibilities. Here are some key points:
Eligibility: Employees who work for at least 24 hours or more a month for the same employer are entitled to annual leave.
Duration: Employees have 21 consecutive days of annual leave on full pay during each leave cycle. For those who work a five-day week, this equates to 15 working days per year. For employees with a six-day workweek, it amounts to 18 working days annually.
Leave cycle: A “leave cycle” is 12 months from either the first day of employment or the end of the previous leave cycle.
Payment: Employees receive their regular salary during annual leave. Annual leave does not include public holidays.
Annual leave is accrued: This means that the number of days an employee is entitled to starts at zero and gradually increases as the leave cycle progresses.
Taking leave: Only by mutual agreement between employer and employee can annual leave be taken.
Employer policies: Employers have the right to set policy on the timing of annual leave if no agreement is reached. These policies may designate certain periods as ‘shutdown periods’ when employees must take annual leave.
Annual leave and shutdown: Many employers have a shutdown period, often occurring in December. During this period, the employer can stipulate that annual leave must align with the shutdown period. If the employee chooses to take annual leave at another time during the year, the shutdown period is considered unpaid leave.
Women employees have the right to four months of maternity leave. While paid maternity leave is not mandatory, employers cannot discriminate against women returning from leave as it goes against labour laws. If you have been contributing to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), you can claim maternity benefits.
Claiming from UIF: Women seeking Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits must visit a nearby labour centre with ID or passport, bank details, and a medical certificate. If the woman is unwell, she can appoint a proxy.
Maternity leave and job security: Instances have arisen where women face job loss after their maternity leave. This practice violates the Labour Relations Act (BCEA). Women have the right to resume their positions after maternity leave and should not experience any form of discrimination.
Adoption leave relates to adopting a child under two. A single adoptive parent is granted a continuous 10-week leave period. When there are two adoptive parents, the other parent is eligible for a standard 10 consecutive days of regular parental leave. The choice of which parent takes adoption leave and which takes regular parental leave is at the discretion of the adoptive parents.
A single adoptive parent is entitled to 10 consecutive weeks of leave. If there are two adoptive parents, the other parent is entitled to 10 consecutive days of regular parental leave. It is up to the adoptive parents to decide which parent will take adoption leave and which will take ordinary parental leave.
Family responsibility leave
Employees employed for more than four months and at least four days a week are entitled to three days of paid family responsibility leave during each leave cycle. It applies in specific situations, such as childbirth, a child’s illness, or the death of certain family members.
Sick leave accrues in three-year cycles, allowing employees to take days based on their work schedule. Medical certificates are required for absences exceeding two days.
Workers may not be forced to work on public holidays. Employers must provide paid time off for public holidays falling on working days, and employees working on public holidays should receive extra compensation.
Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace. Employees have the right to report it without fear of retaliation. Both informal and formal procedures are available for addressing sexual harassment complaints.