R & C X-Press Freight v Munro (1998) 19 ILJ 540 (LAC)

Principle:

Abusive language in the workplace impacts both on the individual employment relationship and more broadly on the interests of the employer's business. It may justify dismissal.

Facts:

During an incident the employee repeatedly swore at a female employee who was simply obeying an instruction from the manager. The employee was dismissed. The Labour Appeal Court found that the employee's conduct had damaged the viability of the employment relationship, that the degree of abuse was persistent and considerable, accompanied by aggression and malice towards a female employee, and indulged in the presence of other persons. Dismissal was justified.

Extract from the judgment:

"The use by an employee of abusive language in the workplace impacts both on the individual employment relationship and more broadly on the interests of the employer's business. ... Where abusive language is directed at one or more co-employees, the ill feeling and even division which this may create has the potential to damage the productive efficiency of the business. ... Factors which serve to aggravate the offence include the extent of the abuse, its degree, and the level of malice with which it is accompanied" (The South African Law of Unfair Dismissal PAK Le Roux and Andréé Van Niekerk at 124-125).

In casu the extent and degree of the abuse was indeed considerable; it was accompanied by a marked degree of aggression and malice; it was persisted in; it was directed at and against a woman; it was indulged in in the presence or hearing of other persons, one of whom was also a woman and another of whom was the respondent's superior and manager of the depot; it took place in a public area of the company, with the potential of harm to the company's image and business relationships; it was not thereafter followed by a genuine apology to the complainant or any show of remorse; instead justification for the conduct was still contended for in the court a quo; there was in fact no cognisable justification for it.

These factors overwhelmingly outweigh any mitigating features operating in the respondent's favour. In the result I am persuaded that the contention of Morris that the respondent's conduct had put an end to any employment relationship between the parties was valid and should have been upheld.