A profound statement was made in Jabari v Telkom SA (Pty) Ltd 2006 10 BLLR 924. It was said that “An employer has the prerogative to set reasonable standards pertaining to the harmonious interpersonal relationships in the workplace”. This reintegrated the importance of good working interactions and relationships among colleagues.

Each company has its own corporate culture. A significant number of resources go into creating and harnessing that culture. This gives the company its own identity and allows employees to adapt, develop, and eventually adopt both the formal and informal practices of the organisation.

The irreconcilable difference in the workplace is often difficult to identify; however, to correctly identify incompatibility, there are three (3) key characteristics that need to be prevalent:

  1. The employee’s inability or failure to maintain cordial and harmonious relationships with their peers.
  2. Incapacity as a result of incompatibility. Performance must therefore be negatively affected.
  3. “Amorphous, nebulous concept, based on subjective value judgment” – to prove this, the employer would need to prove that the employee is the actual and true cause of the disharmony in the workplace.

Incompatibility as a ground for dismissal was best procedurally established in Wright v St Mary’s Hospital (1992) 13 ILJ 987 (IC). It was said that “the employee must be advised what conduct allegedly causes disharmony; who has been upset by the conduct; what remedial actions are suggested to remove the incompatibility; that the employee has been given a fair opportunity to consider the allegations and prepare their reply thereto; that they have been given a proper opportunity of putting their version; and where it is found that they were responsible for the disharmony, they must be given a fair opportunity to remove the cause for disharmony”.

We can therefore deduce that sometimes, work relationships are irretrievably broken and often, ‘cutting ties’ may be necessary to retain and maintain the company’s culture, the working environment and the harmony established within the company.

To prove incompatibility, the employer would bear the onus of proving the following:

  1. There was true and actual incompatibility in the workplace.
  2. This incompatibility was solely (or predominantly) the employee’s fault.
  3. This incompatibility bore serious consequences for the employer.
  4. The employer assisted in remedying the incompatibility through various remedial measures.
  5. The employee was given an opportunity to respond to the allegations and given an opportunity to remedy the incompatibility.

If all avenues to remedy incompatibility in the workplace have been followed, an employer may very well be within their rights to explore incompatibility as a ground for dismissal. Having good interpersonal skills in the workplace is paramount and non-negotiable. Retaining and maintaining the corporation’s personality is key to attracting the right talents for the company and is the driving force behind employees. Job satisfaction amongst employees will always correlate to overall performance.

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