Employees in South African workplaces are confronted with many challenges. As a rainbow nation there are many different cultures, races and ethnic groups as well as different personalities in the workplace. An employer has an obligation, by law, to maintain a harmonious work environment, free of chaos and turmoil by maintaining good relationships amongst employees, even with differing views and personalities. An employee has a contractual obligation to its employer, not to create disharmony in the workplace and to “get along” with fellow employees, management and customers. An employee should avoid confrontation and be able to work in accordance with the culture of the business.
In the event that employees are not fitting into the work environment or relating poorly with colleagues, managers or customers, the employer needs to deal with the situation before it becomes intolerable and a nightmare for all involved.
Incompatibility relates to the “subjective relationship of an employee and other co-workers within the employment environment, regarding the employee’s inability to maintain cordial and harmonious relationships with his peers” (Jabari vs Telkom SA (Pty) Ltd 2006 (10) BLLR 924 LC).
It is important to realise that incompatibility is a no-fault situation on the part of the employee. There may be a personality clash between the employee and a colleague, having a detrimental effect on the employee, which may have an impact on others and the working environment as a whole.
Does incompatibility only include personality clashes in the workplace?
Incompatibility in the workplace does not only include personality clashes. It may also include situations where an employee does not understand the culture at the business and is battling to fit in with the corporate culture. Employers however need to distinguish between misconduct and operational requirement dismissals, from those of incapacity and incompatibility, as these processes are different. Incompatibility is not that the employee’s performance is at fault, or that their conduct is in question, but rather a personality or trait that a person is born with, which is in conflict with another person’s personality or business culture.
I need help to get along with my colleagues however I am scared to be dismissed
Incompatibility needs to be dealt with by the employer as one of incapacity and not misconduct. The employer has to provide an employee with a counselling process and means to assist the employee in dealing with his/her incapacity. The employer must consult with the employee and ascertain why the employee does not get along with his/her colleagues. This process may also include anger management courses or relationship training. The best way to deal with this situation, must be by exhausting the grievance process available, to determine the root causes of the issues. Dismissal of an employee for incapacity must be seen as a last resort.
The dismissal of an employee must be procedurally and substantively fair. An employer has an obligation to investigate claims of incompatibility, very carefully, and to consider alternatives to dismissal, such as a transfer of the employee to a different department.
Only after investigations, consultations and all other avenues have been exhausted, the employer may issue a notice for the employee to attend an Incapacity Enquiry based on incompatibility. The chairperson should then consider factors such as:
Can an employee change his personality trait?
Incompatibility in the workplace is more complicated than one thinks. An employee cannot easily change a personality trait however there is an obligation on the employer and employee to work together to make sure that a healthy and happy working environment is in place at all times. The employer needs to consider all employees in the workplace and the impact relationships have on everyone. Dismissal needs to be seen as a last resort in these circumstances, even though the alternatives are limited. Consultation processes and corrective action is imperative before any further action takes place. All relationships take work and work is needed before employment is terminated.
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