Labour Matters

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans v Thomas

  • The case at hand dealt with the issue of whether the State should be seen as a single employer under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, which bars a claim against ones employer but not a claim through a third party. The respondent injured herself whilst working as a medical registrar and therefore lodged a claim under COIDA but simultaneously instituted a civil claim for damages against the Minister.
  • The High Court found that the ‘State’ includes all three spheres and that it was therefore her employer as she was employed in the provincial sphere. Thus COIDA barred her from claiming in terms of a civil claim for damages against the Minister.
  • This was then appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal which reversed the decision holding the State was not a single entity and could sue the Minister for Compensation.
  • On appeal to the Constitutional Court the court held that nothing in the Constitution or law suggests the State being a single entity and that the definition of ’employer’ in COIDA is wider than its ordinary meaning. The court noted that the respondents rights to bodily integrity were at stake and such a right underlies her common law claim for damages occurring within the workplace. Therefore the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Appeal was upheld and the appeal dismissed.

Vodacom (Pty) Ltd v Motsa and Another

  • This case dealt with the enquiry of whether ‘garden leave’ (see below) affects the ability to enforce a restraint of trade, in particular whether the restraint of trade only operates after the garden leave has elapsed.
  • After resigning from Vodacom, the respondent began working at one of the companies main competitors, MTN. The contract between the applicant and the respondent contained a clause which stipulated a six month restraint of trade clause together with a six month garden leave clause. The applicant sought to enforce such a clause.
  • The court held the general rule is that restraints of trade are seen as valid unless unreasonable. Furthermore the court noted that one of the considerations as to the reasonableness of the restraint of trade may be garden leave.
  • The court clarified that the purpose of garden leave is to prevent employees working for competitors, protecting confidential information, whilst being paid at the same time. This is different to a restraint of trade in that a restraint of trade, the employee is not commercially inactive. The court therefore held where the garden leave is excessive the restraint might not be enforceable.
  • The court held the period would be 6 months garden leave and 6 months restraint which is a year and was deemed to be reasonable on the facts before it.

Garden leave is a period whereby the employee is required to stay away from work whilst still remaining on the previous companies payroll

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