Abusing sick leave to attend a rugby match

The LAC finds that a lenient approach to dishonesty cannot be allowed.

When does attendance at a rugby match trigger a dismissal from employment?

This was the question recently considered by the Labour Appeal Court (LAC), which was asked to review the judgements of the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and the Labour Court.

The employee informed his manager that he had taken ill and would not be attending work on that day. When he returned to work for his next shift and following an inquiry from his manager, the employee said that although he was not well, he had attended a rugby match, an hour’s drive away.

The company instituted a disciplinary enquiry and charged the employee with gross misconduct as he “breached company policies and procedures when he abused authorised leave in the form of sick leave” and claimed wages to which he was not entitled. The employee was found guilty and dismissed.

The matter was then referred to the CCMA as an unfair dismissal dispute. The CCMA found the dismissal to be substantively and procedurally unfair and reinstated the employee with full back pay.

When the matter was reviewed at the Labour Court, it was found that the dismissal was unfair and that the employee should be reinstated.

The matter was then brought before the Labour Appeal Court, which found that the employee “acted dishonestly in absenting himself from work on the basis that he was too ill to perform his duties but then travelled for at least an hour to support his local rugby team, knowing full well that he would be paid for the day”.

According to the judgement, this lenient approach to dishonesty cannot be countenanced.

“He was palpably dishonest, even on his own version. He expected to get away with the enjoyment of attendance at a rugby match on the basis of claiming sick leave and then enjoying the benefits thereof. This is dishonest conduct of a kind which clearly negatively impairs upon a relationship of trust between an employer and employee,” reads the judgement.

Previous conduct of the employee, in terms of lateness and absence from work was also taken into account.

The court found that the “relationship of trust as a result of his initial unreliability and now dishonest conduct had broken down” and that “dismissal was clearly the appropriate sanction”.