During 2017, the Constitutional Court handed down a decision dealing with the use of racially offensive language in the workplace.
In doing so, it held that such behaviour has no place in any workplace and should be rejected with absolute contempt by all that are committed to the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
It went on to hold that the courts must deal with such matters in a manner that will ‘give expression to the legitimate feelings of outrage’ and revulsion that reasonable members of our society - black and white - should have, when acts of racism are perpetrated.”
Then, during early 2018, South Africa saw the first case in its constitutional democracy where an individual was convicted for racism and sentenced to imprisonment.
Times are quickly changing and the legislature appears set to codify what the courts have already put in motion.
Usher in the ‘The Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill’.
The Bill (once adopted) aims to formally criminalise the common law position around hate crimes and hate speech, and regrettably a number of these incidents still take place in the workplace, making employees susceptible to not only disciplinary and civil action, but now criminal prosecution too. Briefly, s4(1)(a) of the proposed Bill seeks to provide wide protection that will apply to any communication that is threatening, abusive or insulting towards any other person or group of persons.
The penalties, if convicted under the Bill (and once passed), currently include a fine or imprisonment and as such, employers should take positive steps to educate its employees in order to avoid any such occurrences and the negative publicity that may follow this developing area of law.
Other proactive steps may include updating existing disciplinary codes, grievance procedures, as well as social media and acceptable behaviour policies in the workplace.
As for the status of the Bill, it has been introduced into the National Assembly and will be followed by public invitations for submissions and comment.