The Employment Equity Act (No.55 of 1998) is part of the South African labour law landscape, but it can be a source of stress and confusion for businesses. Failure to comply with the legislation can result in heavy fines, but meeting equity requirements can be challenging. Here we look at five common mistakes and misunderstandings about the Act, to making compliance a little easier for companies.
1) The Employment Equity Act applies to all organisations in South Africa
If you run a small business, have you checked that the Act applies to you? The Employment Equity Act mainly regulates the operations of organisations that have more than 50 employees or have a turnover above that designated in Schedule 4. This includes NGOs, trade unions, co-operatives, sports organisations, organs of the state, and even churches. Notable exceptions are the National Defence Force, National Intelligence Agency, and the South African Secret Service.
2) Only employers and senior management need to understand the Employment Equity Act
It is of vital importance that employees have a good grasp of the Act and equity practices in their workplace. Inspectors from the Department of Labour, who are charged with enforcing the Act, can interview any worker to find out how much they know. If the inspector finds that their understanding is lacking, there is a good chance your compliance will be too. For this reason, employees need to receive training, information brochures, and other means of knowledge acquisition. In addition, a summary of the Employment Equity Act must be clearly displayed in the workplace.
3) Record-keeping is not that important
A major issue that employers face is incomplete or disorganised records of employment equity measures and practices. However, under the Employment Equity Act, the Department of Labour needs to see all current documentation in order to confirm that a company is compliant. This means that all employment equity training records, member acceptance forms from employment equity committees, logs of employment equity-related complaints, employment equity report forms (EEA2 forms), and even minutes of employment equity meetings, need to be carefully stored.
4) It is the employee’s responsibility to prove discrimination claims
During 2014, when a number of changes were made to the Employment Equity Act, the burden of proof was shifted strongly to the employer. It is their responsibility to prove that discrimination did not take place, or, if it did, that it was fair and justifiable. The Act outlaws all forms of unfair discrimination – the definition of which has been expanded and is now very broad.
5) The Employment Equity Act is complex and very difficult to deal with
Ensuring that your company fully complies with the requirements of the Act may seem difficult, but it is an important part of doing and promoting business in South Africa. If the help of labour consultants, like those available in partnership with the East Rand Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are enlisted, the compliance process can be greatly simplified. It is easier and more reliable to outsource some of this work.