Much of the time, the tension we experience as employees relates to the benefits we expect from the employer. And there are perhaps four points where we expect to receive certain benefits because we know ‘that is how it is supposed to be’.
We are talking about guaranteed salary increase, particularly after probation.
We are talking about leave encashment at the end of every year. We are talking about the annual bonus. We are talking about the exit package we receive when we are retrenched. In many instances, we bring expectations from our last employer, and our various sources of advice and information, which is not always applicable across the employment landscape.
To start with, let us agree what influences employment policy and practice in the business. The first and maybe most critical influence would be employment law, or the Act as we refer to it, and all its related addendums. Statutory provisions set the minimum required conditions of engagement that all employers are expected to comply with.
If the Act says employees must receive at least 15 annual leave days a year, then that is what will happen. If the Act says overtime worked on a public holiday is paid at rate x2, then that’s it. Every employer will, at the minimum, meet these prescriptions. I say at the minimum because, in some companies, employment policy goes above the basics laid out in the law.
In some companies, annual leave goes up to 30 days a year. Or even more. In some companies, there are such varied hours of work, such as flexi-time, or work-from-home options, or, there is such a degree of digitisation, that an employee effectively works less than the 8 (or 9) hours prescribed and has more than the rest periods stipulated. Even then, the employee will still earn at least 15 annual leave days.
Which leads us to the second influence on employment policy and practice. As described above, some employers may, over and above the Act, choose to promote their brand and enhance their competitive advantage in the labour market by offering such benefits that are encouraged by ‘best practice’. Take sick leave for instance. The Act only talks about the 20 days annual allotment for sick leave but many employers extend this as far as several months, including allowances for hospitalisation. Other examples include study leave, compassionate leave, paternity leave, and medical aid cover. These are not mandatory but they are offered as best practice.
Finally, companies shape their employment practice
What about encashment of leave every year end? If, for instance, I end the year with a balance of 18.75 days, should these be paid out, leaving me with a zero leave balance? So far, I just found at Section 98, prescribed annual minimum and frequency that leave is expected to be taken. Annual bonus? Not there in my copy of the Act. So, if there are employers who may be making these payments, guaranteeing salary increases at the end of probation and encashing leave every December, they are doing so at their discretion. This is what works in their business, but it is not binding on all employers.
The last point. What is the package paid on retrenchment? Section 25 talks about consultation with staff, criteria for selecting staff for the exercise, notification of the Commissioner and giving these affected employees first option of employment should opportunities arise. Meaning, if there was due process, I was consulted and given my months’ notice, my exit package would only contain my severance pay for every month worked, any leave accrued, and my last salary, and, if applicable, any other amounts I may be owed such as overtime for instance.
Going forward though, there is only one way to manage staff expectations on a regular basis. Orientation, induction, and regular engagement on the conditions of service. And this is a shared responsibility between HR and line management. We must all speak the same language and we must all own the policies. Don’t let it be that HR states the policy provisions to staff and then line management distances themselves from it by telling staff that ‘if this was a credible employer, you would be getting this or that benefit.’