Our courts have highlighted that job descriptions can change. An employee cannot believe that once a job description is issued, it is ‘cast in stone’. The functions and responsibilities of an employee can be altered based on the company’s operational needs.

The direct and immediate effect of an employee terminating their employment is the overarching decrease in capacity. There is an interim period when one employee leaves, and management is required to assess and manage capacity to aid the gap in the workforce. Common practice is that the workload is shared amongst staff or an individual employee who has the necessary expertise and capacity.

An employer is at liberty to request that employees perform tasks typically outside the ambits of their job description based on the company’s operational requirements at that time. In the matter of SATAWU/ Auto Carriers (East London branch) [2-7] 5 BALR 493 9P), the following questions were posed when determining the necessity of delegating additional tasks to employees, as listed below.

  1. The term and/or conditions of the employee’s contract.
  2. The nature of the tasks to be performed.
  3. The circumstances in which the instruction is given.
  4. The employer’s operational requirements.

These arrangements are usually temporary in nature and are terminated when the vacant position is filled. Often there is an advance termination date or an automatic termination condition attached to these interim arrangements. Gaps in the workforce and increased workloads can bring with them ample opportunities. Opportunities for employees to showcase their grit, skills and knowledge. Opportunities for management and employers to identify talent within the company. There are many potential opportunities attached to taking on additional responsibilities.

  1. Employees can acquire new and additional skill sets.
  2. Often, employees find their niche if exposed to new and different environments.
  3. Opportunities arise to work with new people, collaborate and diversify your professional network.

It is vital to be a team player while remaining hungry and opportunistic during restructuring processes. During the interim transition stages, there should be frequent management discussions regarding capacity. It will further be incredibly beneficial to update employees on the hiring timelines. This is to ensure that there is no interruption in meeting set targets whilst ensuring that workloads are reasonable and practical for employees. Employees should be able to complete their delegated responsibilities and additional responsibilities.

There is an onus on both the employer and the employee to adequately communicate during interim restructuring periods. As mentioned above, frequent assessment of the delegated workload is essential to both the company and the employees.

The management of expectations is paramount when dealing with additional delegated tasks. Employees are encouraged to keep detailed records of all their duties to ensure that their direct line of authority is always aware of the tasks at hand and can intervene when necessary. This also allows them to strengthen their ‘case’ and refer to detailed accounts for promotions and salary increases. Communication should be concise and frequent.

As these arrangements are temporary in nature, it is advisable to have a clear set of achievable deadlines in place. This allows for a smoother onboarding process once the vacancies are filed and further ensures a level of accountability associated with the delegated tasks.

Communication in the work environment will always be imperative to the workforce’s success, and maintaining open lines of communication during transitioning periods is much more crucial. Discussing expectations, deadlines, capacity, challenges, and delays has concrete, lasting benefits for both the employer and the employee during these transitional periods.

Article By: Cass-Leigh Oranje
Dispute Resolution Official – CEO Gqeberha