It often happens in the workplace that an employee is requested to assist in other departments, when such need arises due to sickness, resignation or the like.
For example, Linda, a secretary in the bookkeeping department, is requested to assist the sales department with secretarial duties while Janet is on maternity leave.
In the above example, Linda’s normal working hours are divided between the two departments and the request did not require of her to work any additional hours, over and above her normal working hours.
In such instances, Linda’s employer may even consider granting additional remuneration (an honorarium or ex gratia payment) to her, as a token of appreciation for her willingness to assist.
A number of legislation governs the relationship between employers and employees, such as the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (“the BCEA”). The BCEA serves to regulate the basic conditions of employment, such as the regulation of working time, ordinary hours of work and overtime.
An employee’s job description is usually set out in his/her employment contract and may even contain a term along the following lines:
“In addition to the duties referred to herein, the employee may from time to time be required to execute other instructions reasonably assigned to him/her.”
It is advisable to include such a term in an employee’s contract of employment, in order for the employee to take cognisance of the fact that he/she may be expected to fulfil duties other than those contained in their job description from time to time.
There is no provision in the BCEA which prevents a condition other than those contained therein being included in a contract of employment, but any provision which sets conditions which are less favourable than those provided for by the BCEA, are invalid.
It should be mentioned however that such instruction to fulfil duties other than those described in an employee’s job description should always be both lawful and reasonable. In the example above, the request from Linda’s employer requires her to perform essentially the same functions as set out in her job description- only for a different department, which request appears to be both lawful and reasonable.
Furthermore, seeing as Linda is not required to provide assistance to the sales department outside of her normal working hours, no additional remuneration is payable (except where the employer elects to do so on an ex gratia basis). Should Linda have had to work overtime in order to perform the additional duties as set out above, the contract of employment should provide for remuneration thereof.
It is advisable that an employer includes a clause in all its contracts of employment, which states specifically that the employee’s job description is not exhaustive and that the employer may from time to time request the employee to perform certain functions outside of his/her job description (such request being both lawful and reasonable).
Employers should further guard against setting a precedent when paying additional remuneration to an employee for performing certain functions outside their normal job description. If such additional remuneration is paid regularly and consistently, it becomes an “established practice” and therefore a term of employment. A failure to then make such a payment may amount to an unfair labour practice, or it may be seen as a unilateral change to the terms and conditions of employment, which could expose the employer to certain claims by the employee.
It is also advisable to include a further term in the contract of employment that the employer is not obliged to pay any additional remuneration in such instances and any such payments will be in the sole and absolute discretion of the employer.
Compiled By: MICHELLE TALJAARD
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)