Woman ‘unfairly fired’ for not being able to keep up with pressure of the job

A CCMA sign at the entrance of the Regional Office of the Department of Labour in Pretoria. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

A CCMA sign at the entrance of the Regional Office of the Department of Labour in Pretoria. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 28, 2023


A leading skincare manufacturing company has to pay one of its employees two months’ salary after she was fired because of poor performance. She had struggled to cope with the work and its deadlines.

The employee turned to the CCMA as she felt her dismissal was unfair.

She said it had not been a question of not wanting to do her job, but she had genuinely struggled with the demands and simply could not cope with what was expected of her.

The company said another employee, who was appointed around the same time as the complainant in this case, managed just fine.

But the CCMA commissioner said it was simply life that one person might cope better than another.

The commissioner criticised the company for not subjecting the employee to more training in her field and instead firing her as she was irritating management by not doing her job properly.

The woman was employed in March 2021 as a brand manager at the company, earning a monthly salary of R59,500.

Eleven months later, she was informed of a disciplinary hearing against her on three allegations of misconduct. She was found guilty of gross negligence and fired.

This was, among others, because her work was “riddled with mistakes, resulting in work needing to be redone to get the project completed”.

The commissioner was told that after she and a fellow employee were appointed, they had undergone training.

The complainant was responsible for the Japanese market, alongside her fellow brand managers who were responsible for the international and South African market. Her primary function was to prepare marketing material for Japanese distributors.

During 2021, there were certain deficiencies in her performance and her manager identified those as insufficient skincare knowledge, ineffective time management and prioritising of tasks, and difficulties or failure to meet deadlines.

As the year progressed, the relationship between her and her employers became more strained.

The woman said she simply could not cope because of the pressure with tight deadlines and numerous products to produce and long working hours.

Things came to a head early last year when she was required to upload launch materials for the Japan market but could not cope. Her manager complained that they had to spend long hours fixing her mistakes.

The complainant had a panic attack when she was confronted about her ability to do her work and she was subsequently booked off sick. Shortly afterwards, she was fired.

Commissioner Winnie Everett said there was a difference between dismissals for misconduct and those for incapacity due to poor performance. The reason is that incapacity due to poor performance is considered less “blameworthy” than misconduct.

“It comes down to a question of ‘I can’t” rather than “I won’t” or “I don’t care to”, she said.

She said the employee admitted that she was struggling with her job, although she did try to do it. She, however, did not accept being accused of misconducting herself.

Everett said the woman was not coping in the position and said that the real reason for her dismissal was her poor performance.

“Her poor performance was a strain on the department in a pressured environment; it drained her manager’s time and energy; the repeated mistakes on apparently basic things were irritating and frustrating, and I can see why.

“It is not that she ‘wouldn’t’; there was nothing deliberate or nonchalant about her intentions or conduct. In fact, quite the opposite; she was striving to meet the standard.”

She concluded that simply dismissing her, rather than providing further training, was not the answer.

Pretoria News