The Master Law

The “Great Resignation” is Upon Us – Know the Law!

“Signs of the “Great Resignation” are rippling across South Africa” (Business Insider report, 22 April 2022)

The global pandemic-induced “Great Resignation” trend is upon us, and both employers and employees need to be aware of how our law views the whole question of employee resignation.

A recent Labour Court decision gives some valuable guidance –

The sick employee who tried to withdraw his resignation after a “miraculous” recovery
  • The Deputy Financial Officer of a municipality under administration tendered in writing his immediate resignation from his post on the grounds of ill health.
  • Two weeks later he sought to withdraw his resignation stating “It gives me pleasure that my health as prompted resignation has miraculously improved that I am normal to endure the temperature in the area”.
  • The municipality told him his withdrawal of resignation was not accepted and he applied to the Labour Court for an order reinstating him to his position with full salary and benefits.
  • Many of the facts were in dispute, but critically the Court found that the employee “has by word shown a clear and unambiguous intention not to go on with his contract of employment”, that he did not act in the heat of the moment, that his failure to report for duty thereafter “confirms his subjective intention to quit”, that he communicated his resignation to the correct municipal official who had not objected to it and could be presumed to have accepted it, and that his request to withdraw his resignation was indeed refused by his employer.

The Court held accordingly that the employee’s resignation stood. In doing so, it answered a variety of important questions as follows –

The law on resignation: 7 critical questions answered
  1. What is resignation and how does it affect the contract of employment? 
    “Resignation as a voluntary act is a unilateral act that ends the employment relationship.” (The “voluntary” part is important here! In this case the employee “…consciously elected to resign. He must be allowed to remain in that freely chosen path”.).
  2. When does resignation take effect?
     “Resignation takes effect once communicated to an employer…”.
  3. Who must resignation be communicated to? 
    When it comes to a corporate employer “In my view anyone superior to an employee is sufficient. He or she represents an employer one way or another.” (No doubt some contracts of employment will specify exactly how and to whom a resignation must be communicated).
  4. Must an employer accept a resignation to make it effective? 
    No, “…there is no legal requirement that the resignation must be accepted.”
  5. What if the employee must serve a notice period? 
    This makes no difference; the resignation is effective once communicated: “…This is so even if an employee is contractually obligated to serve a notice period and does not serve it.”
  6. Can an employee unilaterally withdraw a resignation? 
    No, “… it is incapable of being withdrawn unless an employer consents thereto”.
  7. If an employer does accept a withdrawal of resignation, is that a reinstatement? 
    No, “…where an employee withdraws a resignation, all it means is that such an employee is seeking to be rehired or re-employed … A contract of employment can only be brought back from the ashes in the same way it is conceived; namely offer and acceptance.” (The lesson for employers here is to be crystal clear in rejecting a request to withdraw a resignation, as anything less might be construed as re-employment).

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Landlords: Zoning Law Contravention Could Invalidate Your Lease

“…it is a general rule that a contract impliedly prohibited by statute is void and unenforceable…” (extract from judgment below)

Here’s yet another warning from our courts of the importance of complying with your local municipal zoning laws, whether you buy property to live in, as a capital investment, or to let out.

One risk for a landlord is finding yourself with an invalid lease and no claim against your tenant. A recent High Court decision illustrates –

The unlawful coffee shop and the invalid lease
  • A landlord rented premises to a tenant for use as a coffee shop, home industry and restaurant. The tenant also resided on the premises, but no rental for the residential component was specified in the lease.
  • The business use was contrary to zoning provisions indicating that the property could only be used for dwelling purposes as it was zoned “Single Residential 2”.
  • The landlord, although aware of the zoning restrictions, told the tenant that she could operate her business.   
  • When the landlord sued for arrear rental and payment of municipal charges the tenant’s defence was that the lease was invalid and unenforceable.
  • The High Court (hearing an appeal from the Magistrate’s Court) held the lease agreement to be illegal, void and unenforceable. The tenant, it said, could not be expected to establish from the municipality, before entering into the lease agreement, whether the premises could be used for her business. She had seen other restaurants in the same street and had no reason to question the landlord’s right to allow her to trade as she did.
  • As to the applicable law, the Court found that “although it is a general rule that a contract impliedly prohibited by statute is void and unenforceable, this rule is not inflexible or inexorable [inevitable].” The Court’s analysis of when this will apply (and when it won’t) will be of great interest to property professionals, but for most landlords the important thing is the fact that your lease will normally be invalid when it contravenes local legislation. 
  • In that event, you will have no claim against your tenant because, as the Court here put it “this court shall not countenance unlawful conduct by allowing the [landlord] from benefiting from an illegal contract.”
  • Bottom line – the coffee shop tenant is not liable for rental, nor even for municipal charges relating to her occupation and use of the premises.
Zoning – what to do when buying or letting out property

The bottom line is that you need to understand all local zoning restrictions before buying property or letting it out to a tenant. If as a landlord you are aware of a possible issue in this regard, take professional advice on whether you may be able to word the lease in such a way as to protect you from losing all your claims against the tenant should worst come to worst.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

New Ruling on Divorce Assets: How Does it Affect You?

“…the inequality at hand is caused when, after the conclusion of the marriage, a distortion is caused by the fact that one spouse contributes directly or indirectly to the other’s maintenance or the increase of the other’s estate without any quid pro quo.” (Extract from judgment below)

You may have read of the recent High Court decision declaring a section of the Divorce Act invalid.

To understand the importance of this new ruling for many couples about to divorce (and for all couples about to marry), let’s start at the beginning –

A recap – your 3 choices of “marital regime” on marriage
  1. You can marry in community of property: All of your assets and liabilities are merged into one “joint estate” in which each of you has an undivided half share. On divorce or death the joint estate (including any profit or loss) is split equally between you, regardless of what each of you brought into the marriage or contributed to it thereafter. This by the way is the “default” regime – so you will automatically be married in community of property if you don’t specify otherwise in an ANC executed before you marry.
  2. You can marry out of community of property without the accrual system: Your own assets and liabilities, both what you bring in and what you acquire during the marriage, remain exclusively yours to do with as you wish. Note here that the “accrual system” (see option 3 below) will apply to you unless your ANC (ante-nuptial contract) specifically excludes it.
  3. You can marry out of community of property with the accrual system: As with the previous option, your own assets and liabilities remain solely yours. On divorce or death you share equally in the “accrual” (growth) of your assets (with a few exceptions) during the marriage.

Before we move on to the altogether less happy subject of divorce – if you are about to marry, take full advice on which of these options is best for you before you tie the knot!

Does this new ruling apply to your marriage?

This ruling does not apply to you if your marriage was terminated by death or divorce prior to the judgment (which was handed down on 11 May 2022).

It does apply to you if –

  1. Your marriage is still in existence, and
  2. You chose Option 2 above, in other words if you are married out of community of property without accrual, and
  3. Your marriage was concluded after 1 November 1984. Why that 1984 cut-off date? Well, what this High Court case was really all about was the fact that where a marriage was concluded before 1 November 1984 (that’s when the new “Matrimonial Property Act” took effect), courts had a discretion to make a “redistribution order” transferring assets between the divorcing spouses. But (until now) courts have had no such discretion for marriages concluded after the cut-off date.
The constitutional invalidity

That time bar – the 1 November 1984 cut-off – is set by a section of the Divorce Act. And that, held the Court, is unconstitutional because it discriminates between couples based solely on the date of their marriage.

It deprives couples married after the cut-off date of the opportunity to ask a court for a share of benefits acquired during the marriage, based on their respective contributions (direct and indirect) “to the other’s maintenance and estate growth during the subsistence of the marriage”. In practice (until now), a spouse could be left destitute after spending decades contributing to a marriage and to the other spouse’s wealth.

The Court’s declaration of constitutional invalidity, whilst it must still be confirmed by the Constitutional Court, changes all that.

The practical effect of the ruling
  • Courts now have a very wide discretion to order a “redistribution” of assets between you and your spouse, ordering a transfer of assets and money from one spouse to another, regardless of what your ANC provides.
  • That gives you the right to claim compensation for your contributions to the marriage, in other words to claim a fair share of wealth accrued during the marriage (assets brought into the marriage aren’t affected). You will have to prove your case, show what you contributed, and convince the court that a redistribution in your favour is warranted.
  • The practical effect of such a redistribution order “is that the party who contributed to the other’s gain is compensated for its contribution to the extent that a court finds just and equitable. To this end, the court is cloaked with a wide discretion taking into account an infinite variety of factors.” Factors likely to be considered are each spouse’s respective contributions of time, services, savings of expenses, their current financial positions, what was agreed in the ANC, and the like – each case will be different.
  • Note that this is not the same as accrual (Option 3 above). With accrual, the spouse with less asset growth (accrual) during the marriage has an automatic claim against the other for half the difference. But with a “redistribution order”, there is nothing automatic or 50/50 about it – instead the court exercises its discretion as to what (if anything) to award to who.

The aim here is not to put the spouses into equal financial positions, the aim is to redress an unfair financial imbalance.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Tax Freedom Day 2022: The Day We Stopped Working for Government

“Taxpayer: One who doesn’t have to pass a civil service exam to work for the government” (Anonymous)

“Tax Freedom Day” is the first day of the year on which we South Africans (we’re talking about the “average” taxpayer here) have finally earned enough to pay off SARS and to start working for ourselves.

This year the predicted date was 12 May 2022. That’s three days later than last year, and a whole calendar month later than in 1994 when we first started recording this.

That’s a depressing trend, but it’s a worldwide one and we certainly aren’t the worst-off country – Belgians for example only get to celebrate on 6 August! Certainly food for thought for anyone thinking of emigrating. Have a look at Wikipedia here for some country-by-country comparisons.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Website of the Month: Are Your Passwords in the Green?

We all know how vital it is to use strong passwords online, but for a sobering look at just how quickly the “average” cybercriminal can hack any that aren’t up to scratch, go to Hive Systems’ article “Are your passwords in the Green?” here.

Their “Time it takes a hacker to brute force your password in 2022” infographic provides a strong visualization of the weakness and strength of various lengths and types of passwords. Also read the warnings and infographic in the section halfway down the article “What about the elephant in the room; what if my password has been previously stolen, uses simple words, or I reuse it between sites?”

Essential knowledge in these days of soaring online crime!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Property Owners: Your Rates Could Quadruple for Unauthorised Land Use

“The said penalty … was imposed due to the fact that the property was being used in contradiction to its zoning” (extract from judgment below)

Municipalities all have the right (and the duty) to regulate land use in their areas, and amongst other sanctions, properties that are used unlawfully or without authorisation can be subjected to rates and charges on a penalty tariff.

These penalties can be steep, and the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has now held that they can be imposed without the municipality first having to change the property’s category on its valuation roll to “illegal or unauthorised” use. All it has to prove is that it acted in terms of a lawful rates policy.

The house whose rates bill quadrupled
  • A house valued (on the municipality’s valuation roll) at R1,650,000 had its monthly rates bill quadrupled from R898-01 to R3,592-05.
  • The municipality took this step after notifying the owners of their “wrongful and unlawful use of the property as a student commune, in contravention of the town planning scheme and zoning thereof without the necessary authorisation.” Authorisation was necessary, said the municipality, because the commune was a “commercial concern”.
  • This after the owners had let out two of their five bedrooms to “students or young professionals” and had continued to do so despite two years’ worth of notices from the municipality to terminate the unlawful use, and despite a High Court interdict against the continued contravention.
  • The legal challenge mounted by the property owners against the penalties was based on a series of legal arguments, and the Court’s analysis thereof (on appeal from the High Court) will be of great interest to property professionals.
  • For property owners however, the practical punchline is that the SCA upheld the penalty charges, and the owners must pay them.
If your neighbour breaches land use laws…

That punchline is also important for neighbours, because in practice unlawful land usage of this nature will often only come to a municipality’s notice when a concerned neighbour blows the whistle.

So, if you think your neighbour is about to open up an unauthorised office, commercial or other non-permitted operation next door, and if you can’t settle the matter peaceably over a cup of neighbourly coffee, call in professional help immediately. Just the threat of a quadrupled rates bill could be enough to make the problem go away.

Different strokes for different municipalities

Property owner or neighbour, find out what your local authority’s land use and rates policies are. This particular case related to the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, and your local municipality will have its own land use bye-laws, which could well be less or more restrictive than Joburg’s.

Check the zoning before you buy property

Perhaps the property owners in this case planned all along to let out rooms, and perhaps that extra income is what put this particular house within their financial reach. If so, the mistake they made was in not checking the local zoning upfront.

Knowing the zoning and building restrictions in your chosen area is also vital if you want to avoid unpleasant surprises, like a new neighbour opening up a guesthouse or building a triple story which cuts off your sea views. Ask your lawyer to check for you before you offer.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Workplace Harassment: The New Code in a Nutshell

“The criterion that harassment involves unwanted conduct distinguishes acts of harassment from acceptable conduct in the workplace” (extract from the Code, emphasis added)

With effect from 18 March 2022, a new “Code of Good Practice on the Prevention and Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the Workplace” came into effect. Every employer and employee should know about it.

The new Code has replaced the old “Code of Good Practice for the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace”. It is much wider in every way possible because it “… is intended to address the prevention, elimination, and management of all forms of harassment that pervade the workplace” (extract from the Code, emphasis added).

Of necessity, what is laid out below is no more than an overview of an extremely complex topic so in any doubt seek professional advice specific to your circumstances!

In a nutshell…

There’s a lot more detail below, but in essence –

  • The Code applies to all employers, employees, and workplaces (office-based or remote)
  • Its reach is extremely wide in prohibiting any and all forms of workplace harassment
  • Employers have a raft of duties to comply with in relation to assessing workplace risks of harassment, and in formulating and applying procedures to prevent and deal with it
  • Failure to comply risks substantial liability.
Who does the Code apply to?

In a nutshell, it applies to pretty much everyone involved in any business with one or more employees, the Code making it clear to start with that all employers and employees, in both the formal and informal sectors, are included.

Specifically mentioned as possible perpetrators and victims of harassment, in addition to employers and employees, are owners, managers, supervisors, job seekers and job applicants, persons in training including interns, apprentices and persons on learnerships, volunteers, clients and customers, suppliers, contractors, and (the very wide catch-all at the end) “others having dealings with a business”.

When and where does it apply?

It applies virtually everywhere, including remote and out-of-office situations – “in any situation in which the employee is working, or which is related to their work”, including the workplace itself (widely defined), “work-related trips, travel, training, events, or social activities”, “work-related communications, including those enabled by information and communication technologies and internet based platforms”, employer provided accommodation and transport, and “in the case of employees who work virtually from their homes, or any place other than the employer’s premises, the location where they are working constitutes the workplace.”

What must you as an employer do about it?

In broad terms you must –

  • Take proactive and remedial steps to prevent all forms of harassment in the workplace
  • Conduct an assessment of the risk of harassment that employees are exposed to while performing their duties (emphasized as this is probably the best place to start!)
  • Apply an attitude of zero tolerance towards harassment
  • Create and maintain a working environment in which the dignity of employees is respected
  • Create and maintain a climate in the workplace in which employees who raise complaints about harassment will not feel that their grievances are ignored or trivialized, or fear reprisals
  • Adopt a harassment policy, which should take cognisance of and be guided by the provisions of the Code
  • Develop clear procedures to deal with harassment, which should enable the resolution of problems in a gender sensitive, confidential, efficient, and effective manner.

If you don’t tick all of those boxes, you risk substantial liability not only under our employment laws but also under the general principles of “vicarious liability” in the form of liability for any employee misconduct causing harm to others.

What is “harassment”?

The following extract from the Code gives an idea of just how broad the general definitions of harassment are – 

What is “sexual harassment”?

Again, the definitions here are extremely wide and include any form of unwanted conduct of a sexual nature including physical, verbal, or nonverbal conduct, whether expressed directly or indirectly.

Specific examples that seem to have attracted the most media attention include sexual innuendos, comments with sexual overtones, sex related jokes, whistling of a sexual nature, sexually explicit texts, and “unwelcome gestures”, but there are many more.

What about “racial, ethnic or social origin harassment”?

Again, the definitions are wide here, including the concept that “Racial harassment is unwanted conduct which can be persistent or a single incident that is harmful, demeaning, humiliating or creates a hostile or intimidating environment” and illustrated by this extract from the Code –

Bottom line: If you think something could possibly be classified as “workplace harassment”, it almost certainly will be!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Don’t Just Leave Your Loved Ones Assets – Leave Them a Legacy!

“A Legacy Letter is a way for you to share your values, life lessons, cherished memories, hopes for your family’s future, and anything else that is really important to you.”

Estate planning is key to ensuring that your loved ones are properly catered for after you are gone. Ideally go beyond the practical and financial issues and also leave something personal, something of yourself.

Follow these three simple steps to ensure that you don’t just leave behind assets, but also a lasting and valuable legacy –

  1. Firstly, leave a valid and updated will (“Last Will and Testament”). It’s the core and the foundation of your plan to protect the people you care for.
  2. Next, address the financial and practical aspects. Will each of your loved ones have enough to support them? Will there be enough cash in your estate to ride out the inevitable delays in winding it up? Are children and any other vulnerable family members protected? Have you taken advice on setting up trusts? Do you have enough life insurance in place? Have you left a full “Important Information File” to help your executor and your family take control of and finalise your estate?
  3. Now go one step further – don’t just leave an estate, leave a legacy. Read “How to Preserve Your Life’s Lessons for Future Generations” on Mission Wealth for ideas on how to share a meaningful “Legacy Letter” with your family. Follow the links in that article to “Leaving a Legacy” and “The New Way to Leave a Lasting Legacy”.

Let’s close with these words of wisdom from that article: “The golden rule of all estate planning is: Don’t wait.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Beware The Badly Worded Bond Clause!

“The terms of the contract are the decisive criterion by which any potential expiry of a deadline has to be determined” (extract from the judgment below)

A recent High Court decision provides yet another reminder to have your property sale agreement drawn (or at least checked) by a professional. Before you sign anything!

As is the case in many such property sale disputes, it started with one of the parties – in this case the seller – looking for a way to escape the agreement after getting cold feet.

The seller tries to escape the sale
  • The sale agreement in this case contained a bond clause, a very common “suspensive” clause giving the buyer an agreed period of time within which to obtain a bond, failing which the agreement would come to an end automatically.
  • Bond clauses commonly specify a 30-day period from the date of the sale agreement, making it clear when exactly the period expires.
  • The problem in this case was that the bond clause was worded somewhat differently, no doubt because of an issue with unlawful occupants on the property.
  • This clause gave the buyer 30 days, not from the date of the sale, but from the date on which she was given “sole beneficial occupation”.
  • For a variety of reasons the transfer was delayed for four years, and the seller – now keen to get out of the sale because she had decided that the agreed price was too low – argued that the agreement had fallen away automatically. The bond clause period, she said, expired 30 days after the buyer took possession and occupation (the date of the sale) and the buyer’s failure to get her bond within that period put an end to the sale.
  • The buyer on the other hand argued that the 30 days never started running at all, because even four years later there were still unlawful occupants on the property (the sale agreement authorised her to evict the occupants at her own cost, and she hadn’t done so).
  • The Court held that the sale agreement distinguished between “possession” and “occupation” – which had both been given to the buyer immediately on signature of the sale agreement – and “sole beneficial occupation”. In the context of this agreement, held the Court, “sole beneficial occupation” meant that the buyer, “to the exclusion of all others, was to enjoy the benefit of occupation of the property pending transfer.”
  • Although the buyer had indeed been given “possession” and “occupation” four years ago, she had never been given “sole beneficial occupation”. The 30-day period had never started running and the seller is bound by the sale agreement.
For want of a well-drawn bond clause…

Badly drawn bond clauses have been the downfall of many a seller and many a buyer in the past. In this case the seller is not only stuck with an unsatisfactory sale price, she also loses four years’ worth of income because the buyer is not liable for occupational interest until sole beneficial occupation is given. Plus of course the seller must now pay all the legal costs.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Website of the Month: 3 Things the Most Productive People Do Every Day

“Here’s how to expand your mind’s abilities to get more done”

Boosting productivity is one of the fundamentals of success in both our personal and our professional lives.

“Get more done in less time” is the perfect strategy for making the most of everything we do, but how to go about it in practice? Our challenge in the Online Age is being swamped by productivity tips of every shape and size – so how do we cut through the noise and get to the nub of what will work for us and what won’t?   

For a quick and easy summary of three tried-and-tested ideas on cutting through to the essentials, read “3 Things the Most Productive People Do Every Day” on the Barking Up the Wrong Tree website.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

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We are open during Lock-Down!

Our legal team are available to consult with you via remote connection (Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp etc.) during the lock down period.

Please contact us for more details and let us know which date and time will suit you.

Tel/WhatsApp: 0824648701
Email: mimi@mkarstelattorneys.co.za
Skype address: mimi.karstel