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Job descriptions are not compulsory in terms of legislation and the employer, therefore, does not have to present job descriptions to its employees. This would however be unwise since employees will do what they “like” to do and not focus on what the employer wants them to do. Job descriptions can never be fully comprehensive and will generally be merely a summary of key areas of responsibilities that an employee should focus on in the performance of their duties. However, by mentioning one item in a job description it may imply several other duties that are not necessarily stipulated. This is referred to as the ambit of an employee’s duties and employees are under an obligation to perform such duties in order to achieve what is expected from them in terms of their job descriptions.

Job descriptions will never remain the same and will constantly change as the businesses of employers grow. Job descriptions are not cast in stone or molded in steel, and employees cannot hold an expectation that a job description, once issued, can never be changed. Job descriptions will change constantly as a result of inter alia technology, legislation, and the policies of the company.

These changes do not have to be negotiated with the employee and will happen automatically, mainly without the employee even realising it. Major drastic changes to job descriptions, such as the combination of two positions, the upgrading or downgrading of positions must be negotiated with the employee and will happen automatically.

The issue of whether or not an employee is obligated to carry out tasks or duties that are not stipulated in their job description was reviewed in the Labour Court and it was found that the fact that an instruction does not fall within the ambit of an employee’s job does not warrant refusal from the employee to adhere to the instruction. As long as the instruction is capable of performance, lawful, and reasonable, the employee must adhere.

Whether an employer may instruct an employee to perform tasks “allegedly” falling outside of an employee’s job description depends on:

· The terms and/or conditions of the employee’s contract,

· The nature of the task to be performed,

· The circumstance in which the instruction is given, and

· The employer’s operational requirements.

Having regard to the four items to be considered above, employers would be wise to ensure that a job description should state specifically that the list of tasks or duties and responsibilities is not exhaustive, and that the employer is entitled to instruct the employee at any time to carry out additional duties or responsibilities, which fall reasonably within the ambit of the job description, or in accordance with operational requirements.

Furthermore, it would seem prudent to include a clause such as “should a grievance be felt with regard to any instruction issued, the representation may be made to management by means of the internal grievance procedure, but in the first instance the instruction shall be obeyed.” Thus, the job description and the employment contract should also include a provision stating that the functions and responsibilities listed in the job description may be changed at any time, depending upon the operational requirements of the employer, and within the parameters of the post held by the employee.

Employers must be careful not to rush out and make changes to job descriptions, this article does not mean we can now change anything, or instruct employees to do anything without having the right to object. Major drastic changes to job descriptions must be negotiated and done in a fair manner.

Key points:

1. Job descriptions are not comprehensive, and employees must be made aware of that by inserting such a condition in the employment contract or job description. It should further state that the employee:

  • Agrees to perform other duties outside of the ambit of their position as and when required to do so.

  • Shall first adhere to and perform the instruction before lodging a grievance if they believe that the instruction was invalid. There may be exceptions to this rule but in general, the policy of the company must be that the work is first done before complaining about it.

2. Job descriptions must be updated annually or if major changes are made to them.

3. Get your employees to sign their job descriptions.

4. A job description will change constantly as a result of the operational requirements of a company and employees do not have a vested right to expect that their working obligations will remain unchanged from the moment they are appointed.


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