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Workplace Discrimination: Lessons From The Dreadlock Dismissals Case

Discrimination2ndEmployers:  Be aware of the wide ramifications of the recent “Dreadlocked Warders” decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Briefly, the Court ordered the reinstatement of prison warders dismissed for refusing to cut off their dreadlocks when ordered to do so in terms of the Correctional Services Dress Code applicable to them. The Court accepted that the Rastafari and Xhosa officers in question had worn their dreadlocks “as a ritual in observance of their sincerely held religious and cultural beliefs”.  

Finding that “a policy is not justified if it restricts a practice of religious belief – and by necessary extension, a cultural belief – that does not affect an employee’s ability to perform his duties, nor jeopardise the safety of the public or other employees, nor cause undue hardship to the employer in a practical sense”, the Court held their dismissals to have been discriminatory and automatically unfair.

The decision shows how vital it is to ensure that your workplace practices, contracts, codes etc comply strictly with our labour legislation and do not deny employees their constitutional rights.

Tread carefully here – the Labour Relations Act (LRA) renders automatically unfair any discrimination, direct or indirect, “on any arbitrary ground, including, but not limited to race, gender, sex, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language, marital status or family responsibility.”

And critically, once such discrimination is established, unfairness is presumed, and the onus then shifts to the employer to prove to the contrary.

Employees: Our courts have again confirmed their commitment to stamping out unfair discrimination in all its forms from the workplace.  Stand up for your rights!

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