Cape Town - Making racist comments while off duty won’t protect you from being fired, labour lawyers have said.
Nicole de Klerk is the latest person to have action taken against them by their employers for racist outbursts.
De Klerk used the K-word a number of times in a confrontation with a group of black revellers at the 155th L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate on Saturday.
She was fired by her company, The Talent Bloom, on Sunday morning. She had only been employed by the company – a global talent agency – for two days.
On Sunday, the company issued a statement announcing the termination of her contract, saying it did not “condone or tolerate racist comments, behaviour or attitudes in any form”.
The daughters of former cabinet minister and MP Ngconde Balfour, Sanelisiwe and Nosiphiwo, were among the group of revellers verbally abused by De Klerk.
According to Sanelisiwe, De Klerk hurled verbal insults at her and her friends after they repeatedly asked her to leave them alone.
“She started talking to us, making no sense. She even asked random questions,” Sanelisiwe said.
When the party again asked De Klerk to leave them alone, she reportedly said: “Don’t come here with your k****r behaviour.”
Security was called to the scene, where De Klerk reportedly said she had “called them k*****s because that’s what they are”.
De Klerk was ejected from the event and later fired.
Grant Wilkinson, executive at Global Business Solutions, said: “One can be charged and possibly dismissed as a result of off-duty misconduct.”
Wilkinson said the dismissal was warranted because links between the individual and his or her employer could bring the company into disrepute.
“As a result, action can be taken. With regards to social media, it’s even quicker and a more public situation, even in your own personal capacity. If there’s a link to the organisation, or the organisation suffers a reputational damage as a result of the association – the organisation would be able to take action against its employee, and the action can vary based on the company’s disciplinary code.”
Jawitz Properties recently distanced itself from Penny Sparrow, who in a Facebook post referred to black beachgoers in Durban as “monkeys”.
Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu subsequently asked the Estate Agency Affairs Board to probe the statements, with Sparrow facing disbarment from the property industry if found guilty of misconduct. The agency has reportedly also considered taking legal action against Sparrow for bringing the company into disrepute.
Labour attorney and MP Michael Bagraim said De Klerk would be entitled to a hearing in line with the Labour Relations Act. However, he said she would probably not have her dismissal overturned.
“The employment relationship is built on trust. If this is broken, dismissals usually happen,” Bagraim told the Cape Argus.
While a number of caveats protect employees from outright dismissal, De Klerk appealing her axing would probably fail, he said.
Bagraim referred to De Klerk’s use of the K-word as “the grossest thing anyone can say”.
A local advocate was recently disbarred for comments he made on the website meneer.tv – a website he owns with a business partner.
Emmanuel Spamer, the former advocate, and co-owner of the website Jaco Kirsten were adjudged to have “disseminated and normalised rape and paedophilia” in light of disparaging and abusive comments made on the website.
The Western Cape High Court ruled that the site “crossed the line between humour and crude vulgarity”.
“There is no room for personal capacity as the (employment) trust reaches everywhere,” said Bagraim.
Wilkinson agreed, saying employees are representatives of their employers, regardless of the setting. “It need not happen during the company’s time, it can be after hours, in your own time. You don’t even need to have to have the name of your company on your social media profiles.”
De Klerk reportedly approached her boyfriend to support her after she racially abused the group. He reportedly immediately left the party without her.
She is the latest person to have action taken against her by her employers this year.
* Chris Hart was suspended from his job as chief economist at Standard Bank for referring to victims of apartheid as “entitled”.
* Andrew Barnes, the eNCA senior anchor, was taken off air for mocking Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s pronunciation of the word “epitome” on live television.
* Justin van Vuuren, a fitness instructor, was dropped by chief sponsor FutureLife for referring to black beachgoers in Durban as “the scum of the nation”.
* Velaphi Khumalo, a government employee, was suspended by the Gauteng Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation Department for calling for genocide against white people, saying: “We must act as Hitler did to the Jews.”
* Gareth Cliff was dropped as an Idols SA judge for making free speech versus hate speech pronouncements on Twitter in the wake of the Sparrow fallout.
Before deleting her social media accounts, De Klerk tweeted an apology which read: “I beyond sorry for this behaviour, it is most certainly unacceptable and I am so embarrassed (sic).”