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South Africa: Employees must have their jobs back after maternity leave

14 December 2022
– 3 Minute Read

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A recent judgment highlights the fact that the right to maternity leave is enshrined in our law.

The applicant in Brandt v Quoin Rock Wines, sought compensation for an alleged automatically unfair dismissal relating to her pregnancy. She had been a financial manager at Quoin Rock Wines since July 2013. She received IVF treatment in 2019 and later that same year became pregnant with a due date of 11 June 2020. She informed the CEO in January 2020 and stated that she would work until the end of May and wanted to ease back on her responsibilities whilst on maternity leave. 

When the applicant wished to come back to work, the CEO informed her that her position had been made redundant, and her services were no longer required. This was done without any consultations with the Human Resources Department or the applicant herself. 

The CEO admitted he was angry that the applicant felt she could determine the scope of her maternity leave and did not do a proper handover before she left. There were complications with her pregnancy, however, and she did not carry the baby to term. Because of this, the applicant went on leave 10 days earlier than expected and was unable to do a proper handover of her work. In a heated telephone call, he said he could not understand why she was unavailable to do her job but could do two photoshoots with her baby. 

The Labour Court found that, while the CEO did understand that the applicant was entitled to maternity leave, he had no proper understanding of what that leave actually entailed. He was angry that she was not available after her baby was born and this, the Court viewed, was a ‘prime example’ of his lack of understanding ‘of the right to maternity leave enshrined in our law’. His poor reactions and retaliations against the applicant for going on maternity leave were entirely inconsistent with the statutory obligations of employers in relation to maternity leave. 

The Court was satisfied that the applicant had done all she could in the circumstances. She remained available on her work laptop even after she was admitted to hospital and delivered her baby prematurely. The fact that she could not do a proper handover of her work, or that she wanted to set out plans for her maternity leave, is no basis in law for her employment to be under threat. 

The Court stated that her rights under our employment laws should have been upheld and protected by her employer and held that she was deserving of meaningful solatium. The respondent was ordered to pay the applicant compensation in the amount equivalent to 16 months’ salary, being ZAR 800 000.