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Holiday Season – planning leave, bonuses and expectations with your domestic worker
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Holiday Season – planning leave, bonuses and expectations with your domestic worker

 

Ruth kloppersBy Ruth Kloppers

With only 12 weeks left until Christmas, and even less left until everyone begins their annual December holiday “migrations”, it is now the perfect time to begin communicating with your staff and plan leave dates, Christmas bonuses and expectations for 2015.

Most employers tend to plan leave dates with staff just before the leave takes place, and this often leads to us receiving urgent emails and calls asking advice, or needing help because the dates are clashing. Most of these issues are easy to resolve, with communication and proper planning a few weeks in advance.

With regards to leave, the normal amount of leave that is allocated to domestic workers is 15 work days leave per annum (for those that work a standard Monday to Friday). If your domestic worker works 6 days a week, she will be entitled to more leave (1 days leave for every 17 days worked).

It is crucial that both employer and employee understand that leave must be by mutual agreement. Neither, the employer or employee, can stipulate dates that have to be adhered to. These dates need to be discussed by both parties, and agreed to by both parties. If, in the beginning of employment, leave days were stipulated in writing by the employer, and agreed upon at the signing of this contract, then those days can be enforced. However, if there was no contract in place with specified dates, then both parties have an equal say in negotiating leave times.

This said, I recommend that you chat to your staff now – find out what dates they were planning to take off. Consider the dates you were planning to take off, and try to marry the two dates. If there will be a period where your staff are away, and you are needing temporary assistance (especially if you are still at work, and kids are already at home for the holidays), it is a good idea to plan this now as well – you can ask your staff if they have a friend/relative that can stand in for them , or alternately contact an agency like mine, and we can arrange temp staff for you – but if you are going the agency route, there are normally limited ladies available, so the sooner you ‘book’ someone, the better.

Also crucial to note is that leave applies to ALL workers. We have often heard of employers who maintain that because their staff are foreigners, they must work through South African public holidays – this is completely false, and is in direct conflict with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. According to our labour law – ALL workers are entitled to have public holidays off. Should an employer require that staff work a public holiday, they are entitled to receive DOUBLE pay for that day’s work. Also, public holidays and weekends are not calculated into leave. Leave days are strictly the days that an employee would normally be required to work.

Because we still have queries regarding this, I am going to state the obvious: when a staff member takes annual leave, they MUST still receive pay for this time. The leave that they take may NOT be deducted from the employee’s salary.

Another issue that seems to crop up a lot around Nov/Dec is “How much Is the Bonus That I must Pay My Domestic Worker?” Legally, an employer is NOT required to pay any bonus to a domestic worker at all, and the bonus amount is completely at the discretion of the employer.

That said, I must point out that in January, many of the new ladies that approach us for work, or advice on resigning from positions, do so because they did not receive a Christmas bonus, or did not receive what they deem as a good Christmas Bonus.

We do our best to educate employees that a bonus is not a legal requirement – and a 13th cheque is NOT a requirement from employers. But this continues to be the expectation among staff.

Hence, it is CRUCIAL that proper communication around bonuses takes place at the time of signing your employment contract, and when leave periods are addressed. Make sure that your employees know that you are not obliged to provide a bonus, but, rather, that you will provide what you can afford to.

In my home, this is a very sticky issue – with both my husband and I owning our own businesses, we do not receive bonuses, yet our staff expect one. We have thus made it very clear to our staff that we pay bonuses based on two factors: performance, and our affordability. If staff performance has been high throughout the year, a good bonus is paid. Mediocre performance equals a mediocre bonus. If we have a good financial turnover, 13th cheques are paid, if not, we pay as much as we can. But, my staff also understand that I might not pay a good bonus in December, however, there are other times during the year when I will pay bonuses. And they budget accordingly.

I find that because we have good lines of communication regarding this, my employees understand, and we have a good relationship in this regard. They understand what I will do, and I understand their expectation.

Lastly, when it comes to leave, make sure that your staff commit to a date that they will return. Remind them that public transport, delays on provincial highways, delays at border posts, and other factors are going to affect their return to work, and that they need to ensure that they give themselves enough time for any issues that might arise. And, most important, if there are any issues that do arrive, they need to notify you timeously. For example, if your staff are going to Zimbabwe for December, they need to ensure that: Their travel documents are in order (for easy entry and exit at the border), they allow themselves ample travel time to go and return, they allocate an extra day for delays at the border, and very importantly, should they experience any issues, it is IMPERITIVE that they communicate with you BEFORE they are due to return – not just “not arriving” on their first day of work.

I hope that this article has helped you to plan a little better. If there is any advice or assistance that you need, please do not hesitate to contact me on ruth@helpathome.co.za and I will gladly assist where I can.