“When you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard, someone is getting smarter, and somebody is winning, just remember that.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Humans, as social creatures, have a constant desire and need for community and shared interactions. Numerous research studies have documented the effect of loneliness on the human psyche. In fact, loneliness is found to increase the rate of morbidity and mortality; with a further significant impact on social interactions being attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although, there is a great need for social interactions, the impact of these interactions rearing an ugly head within the workplace provides the framework for horseplay.
What is horseplay?
According to the Collins Dictionary horseplay can be viewed as ‘’rough play,” in which people push and hit each other or behave in a “silly way.” More often than not, there is no intention to hurt or harm one another during such silly acts, although, injuries may occur.
Horseplay can refer to any unsafe act that can cause harm to another, and is normally done “all in the name of fun.”
Examples of horseplay include: pranks, practical jokes, unauthorised competitions/contests, damage of company property and intoxication during year-end functions, poor vehicle operation and unsafe acts because of fooling around.
Giving rise to potential “mob-mentality,” employees rarely acknowledge the consequences of their actions. If you run or chase a fellow employee through a workshop, or throw a hammer to a person, all of these actions can lead to serious injuries. Whilst you are partaking in such activities, you may not necessarily notice the environment around you, which can lead to injuries or accidents; for example, the possibility of crashing into or pushing someone else into heavy equipment, or moving parts, perhaps knocking over open containers of hazardous substances or hitting another person in the head, with a dangerous tool.
In most contracts of employment, employers are clear in what they expect of an employee. Safety in the workplace is normally a top priority for an employer, by virtue of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (OSHA), which places a strict obligation on an employer to provide a safe working environment for its employees. Thus, an employee’s failure to adhere to this rule, may lead to disciplinary action and subsequent dismissal.
In the matter of Kellogg Company South Africa (PTY) Ltd and FAWU obo Lucky Khumalo and others JR 1671/16  ZALCJHB 268 (LC), the Labour Court was required to evaluate the fairness of the dismissal of Mr. Khumalo.
Mr. Khumalo was placed in a disciplinary hearing and charged with “Any unsafe act where the employee demonstrates a reckless disregard for themselves or their co-workers Safety – Ex:, Any act or action that recklessly or intentionally puts another employee in danger of physical injury.”
This charge emanated from horseplay performed by the employee to one Ms. Sekiti. Ms. Sekiti (the second witness for the employer) “testified that on the 20 August 2015 she was on her way from the plant to the canteen, before reaching the canteen she met the employee (Mr Khumalo) who was walking in the opposite direction. When she walked past the employee, the latter suddenly turned and grabbed her from behind and moved her around, she asked the employee to stop what he was doing but the employee did not immediately heed to her call. She became light-headed. She regained her consciousness when she was in the clinic and ‘did not know what happened when [she] stood up from the ground, [she] fell.’ During cross examination, this witness confirmed that she was not angry with the employee, and that both the employee and her would sometime play with each other.”
Mr. Khumalo did not dispute what had happened, in fact, he testified that “he acted the way that he did because he was happy to see his colleague… and had no intention to harm her.” He pleaded guilty to the charge and was subsequently dismissed.
The Labour Court found that “the Commissioner’s conclusion is in line with what the Constitutional Court, inter alia, said in Sidumo supra, in that— “in deciding how commissioners should approach the task of determining the fairness of the of dismissal, it is important to bear in mind that security of employment is a core value of the Constitution which has been giving the effect by the LRA.” Under the circumstances, I conclude that the review application should fail as the records justified the outcome of the Commissioner, meaning the arbitration award is one that a reasonable decision-maker could have made.” Meaning that in the circumstances (given the employee 10 years of service, intentions and clean disciplinary record, the dismissal was substantively unfair, and Mr. Khumalo was reinstated on a final written warning.
Horseplay in the work place can lead to serious injuries, which may lead to progressive discipline or even dismissal, if found guilty. Employees should reframe from such acts, in order to maintain a professional working environment.
MISA – Just a phone call or an e-mail away!
Kindly utilise the following e-mail addresses and links for assistance:
Legal/Labour-related enquiries Legal@ms.org.za
Legal Reception 011 476 3920 / 071 880 9682
MISA Benefit claim-related enquiries Claims@misa.org.za
Any other enquiries Info@ms.org.za
Mobile App https://onelink.to/w9a7ku