Davies Ndumiso Sibanda, Labour Matters
MANY employers and employees have had labour relations damage causing conflict related to compassionate leave especially cases related to death.
Section 14B(8) of the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 provides for special leave on full pay for days not exceeding 12 days in a calendar year where there is a justifiable compassionate ground.
Once the employer establishes that there is a justifiable compassionate ground, he has no choice but to grant the employee special leave.
The number of days granted shall be determined by the nature of special leave requested and the circumstances of each case but must not exceed 12 days.
The first area of conflict between employers and employees is the meaning of justifiable compassionate leave.
This means there must be justification of the request by the employee and the request must be related to a compassionate ground.
A justifiable request is one that would cause a reasonable person to show sympathy, pity or mercy. It is this measure that becomes a source of conflict especially where employers use double standards.
Common cases where employers use double standards have involved employees who lose relatives such as cousins, grandmothers, in-laws and others very close to them and are told these do not qualify for compassionate leave.
But when it comes to managers losing the same people, special leave is granted, that is obviously not the correct spirit of the legislation.
In most cases, compassionate leave relates to death or illness of someone very close to an employee and employers have to use proper judgment that balances legality and moral correctness in decision making.
I have seen cases where employees have been denied permission to bury their loved ones and the damage in relations has been permanent not only between the employer and the employee but also with those close to the employee and there are times when that has turned into a labour relations issue.
Employers need to be careful in dealing with all compassionate cases as compassionate leave issue appeals to emotions and raises questions about morals and ubuntu, a thing that can make or break a manager.
There are other areas of conflict where the employer refuses to grant special leave but gives the employee vacation leave days even in cases where special leave was the most appropriate.
Such conduct by employers has very limited financial benefit but the price in human relations and productivity is very high.
I recall a case of a colleague who was denied permission to go and bury his grandmother who had looked after him his entire life after his mother had died soon after giving birth to him.
All of us in his shift could not work properly as moral in the department was so low.
The colleague would shed tears from time to time and some of us would stop our work to console him and on Friday we hardly worked as we were preparing to accompany him to his rural home to pay our respects.
From that week our relations with the supervisor started deteriorating, productivity went down and when the supervisor was moved to another shift, we celebrated but the employees in the supervisor’s new shift were not amused as they viewed the supervisor as somebody with no human heart.
There are many other issues that arise, which need to be attended to very carefully such as how much time is given to the employee, should the employee be given cash in advance, should the company’s funeral funds be used, what do you do with delayed burials going beyond 14 days, who qualifies for compassionate leave and many others.
In conclusion, employers should put in place a policy to manage compassionate leave and the policy must cater for possible eventualities.
– Davies Ndumiso Sibanda can be contacted on: Email: [email protected]