The idea of the reasonable person is a fundamental legal concept. This is an objective standard. In other words, it is not subject to change depending on the person you are speaking to. It is thus applicable to everyone. As an employer, it is very important for you to know what this concept means as it is very important for you and your business. Here’s why.

What does a ‘reasonable person’ mean?

In both civil and criminal matters, the objective standard that many matters will be decided against is the reasonable person. This states that – when judging the culpability of a person – the individual making the judgement will ask himself or herself if a person in the same situation as the alleged guilty party would have foreseen the possibility of the unlawful conduct happening.

What employers need to know about the reasonable person

It is very important for you, the employer, to know that you cannot hold all employees in your company to the same reasonable person standard. So, for example, if a director of your company commits an unlawful action he or she must be judged as a reasonable director with specific knowledge and qualifications that are required of a person in that role. Another employee in your company would be judged according to what their specific job description would be.

The concept of reasonableness doesn’t only apply to employees

Reasonableness can also apply to instructions as can be seen by the case of TDF Network Africa (Pty) Ltd v Sign NO. (CA 16/15) [2016] ZALCJHB 431 (11 November 2016):

  • The employee was a truck driver. His contract, as well as the Road Freight Industry Bargaining Council Main Agreement, stated that he would be periodically work overtime when required to do so.
  • His shift usually ended at 5pm but was instructed to work overtime from 5 – 7pm.
  • The employee refused to work after 6pm as there was no public transport available at that time to take him home.
  • As he was on a final written warning for a similar offence, he was dismissed.
  • The employee appealed against this dismissal contending that it was unfair.
  • The Bargaining Council found that all work after 6pm is considered night work and, as such, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act states that employers need to furnish employees with transport from the place to work to their home. The employee had not been insubordinate. He was willing to work until 6pm as transport was available and his employer had not made any available. Thus, the dismissal was found to be unfair.

You need to make sure that should you decide to dismiss one of your employees is always a fair dismissal. Otherwise, if it is not, you’ll end up having to spend a lot of money on legal costs that you wouldn’t have normally had to spend. Global Business Solutions is hosting a workshop on Effective Discipline in the Workplace. This two-day seminar will empower you with the skills and knowledge that will enable you to confidently chair formal and informal disciplinary enquiries. Click here for more information.