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How to manage non-conventional beliefs in the workplace

As world views change and people are exposed to different issues, opinions and insights, so too must organisations be willing to adapt their policies to incorporate non-religious beliefs. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, notes that what was previously relegated to the fringes of society has become more prevalent in the modern workplace.

“Beside flat-earthers, there has been a rise in Pastafarians who promote a light-hearted view of religion while advocating the belief in the flying spaghetti monster as their deity,” he says. “The Employment Equity Act legislates against discrimination on beliefs and religious grounds. Perhaps most telling is the line that states ‘…or for any other arbitrary reason’. This would include non-conventional beliefs, even those some might consider to be illogical or uninformed,” he says.

Avoid conflict

When it comes to the protection of non-religious beliefs, Myburgh says it is always advisable for the company not to discuss religion and beliefs in the workplace. “This can lead to conflict and usually does not end well for the parties involved. Furthermore, this can result in the creation of unnecessary ‘factions’ inside the business that can negatively impact productivity and morale.

“These matters should be covered in the organisation’s Employment Equity policy. But regardless of what is defined in the policy, people should never impose their beliefs on others. While they might have a right to preach what they believe in, other parties also have the right to refuse to listen.”

However, unfair discrimination in any form is forbidden by the Employment Equity Act. For a business, it is simply a matter of putting this into practise.

Balanced environment

Myburgh notes that “even though companies do not have a responsibility to grant additional benefits when it comes to beliefs, they should try to accommodate employees in this regard, as much as it is operationally possible. Companies do have the right to refuse leave if it is felt that the leave will impact negatively on their operations.

Practically speaking, companies cannot draw a line when it comes to belief systems. The only area where some leeway exists is if those beliefs negatively impact people at work. For example, burning incense in the office could become a health and safety issue.

“Beliefs are a listed as a discriminatory ground in the Employment Equity Act and must be included in the company code of conduct. If the code of conduct is breached, the perpetrator must be disciplined accordingly. Furthermore, these non-traditional beliefs do not have to impact on morale. If anything, it shows the company’s willingness to embrace diversity in the workplace and openness to generate engaging discussions,” Myburgh concludes.

Revised employment equity legislation could open up govt business

Revised employment equity legislation could open up govt business 

It may be the last quarter of the year, but South African employers won’t have much opportunity to sit and reflect on business over the past ten months – the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) has confirmed the Employment Equity Amendment Bill 2018 will be tabled before Parliament before the end of October 2019.

The Employment Equity Amendment Bill, 2018 and the Draft Employment Equity Regulations, 2018 were published for public comment for 60 days from 21 September 2018 to 20 November 2018.

The legislation seeks to further establish and increase transformation in the workplace – a necessary step in the process of workplace transformation and progressive change in corporate South Africa.

Regulate sector-specific employment equity targets

As with any proposed legislation, it is vital that employers be cognisant of the changes that will come about.

Firstly, employers need to be aware that the law will empower the labour minister to regulate sector-specific employment equity targets and promulgate Section 53 of the Act to enable the issuing of Employment Equity compliance certificates as a prerequisite for accessing state contracts.

We advise all employers to review the Bill and its contents to better acquaint themselves with the finer details. As an initial guide, we have highlighted several significant changes.

Proposed changes to the Bill include a revision to the definition of “designated employer”, and a revision to the National Minimum Wage Commission.

Specify numerical targets for any sector

Moreover, Section 14 of the principal Act (Voluntary Compliance) has been deleted. This means that in terms of Section 53 (State Contracts), employers with fewer than 50 employees will no longer be able to participate in a government tender, but can be issued with a Certificate of Compliance to enable them to do business with government, provided they comply with Chapter 2 of the EE Act (Unfair Discrimination) and the National Minimum Wage Act.

A new subsection, section 15A, has been added to Chapter 3, Section 15 (Affirmative Action Measures) of the Act. Section 15A (Establishment of Sectoral Targets) has been added to specify numerical targets for any sector or part of a sector.

This means the minister may publish a notice in the Government Gazette identifying national economic sectors for the purposes of the EE Act, having regard to any relevant code contained in the Standard Industrial Classification of all Economic Activities published by Statistics South Africa.

Regulations prescribing the criteria

The minister may, by notice in the Gazette, set numerical targets for any sector or part of a sector identified. The notice issued may set different numerical targets for different occupational levels, or regions within a sector, or on the basis of any other relevant factor.

The minister may also issue regulations prescribing the criteria to be considered in determining a numerical target.

The implementation of this legislation will have far-reaching consequences for all businesses in South Africa, especially those businesses competing to attract government’s attention.

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