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A Guide to Unfair Labour Practices for Employers

In the dynamic landscape of employment law, understanding the intricacies of unfair labour practices, especially concerning promotions, is crucial for both employers and employees. This article aims to shed light on how not being promoted can constitute an unfair labour practice, outline steps employers can take to avoid such accusations, and advise on best practices for promoting employees.


Unfair Labour Practices and Promotion

Unfair labour practices encompass a broad spectrum of employer behaviours that violate employees' rights. Disputes related to promotions can often become contentious, leading to allegations of unfair labour practices. Such instances may include not honouring a promise or legitimate expectation of promotion, promoting someone who does not meet the job requirements, or applying affirmative action measures unfairly.

The constitutional right to fair labour practices, coupled with the right to work, ensures that every employee should expect non-discriminatory treatment in job applications and promotions. This right is tacitly recognized in employment contracts, emphasizing that promotions should not be reserved for specific individuals on grounds other than qualifications, ability, and experience, subject to constitutional and statutory mandates like the Employment Equity Act.


Employer's Guide to Avoiding Unfair Labour Practices in Promotions

  • Establish Clear Promotion Criteria: Employers must ensure that the qualifications required for a promotion are reasonably related to the job in question. This approach helps mitigate allegations of promoting individuals who do not comply with the job's prescribed requirements.

  • Implement and Follow Fair Promotion Procedures: Employers should adopt transparent and fair promotion procedures that include considering all candidates properly, applying consistent promotion qualifications or standards, and avoiding biased or factually flawed decision-making processes.

  • Apply Affirmative Action Measures Judiciously: While affirmative action is essential for promoting equality in the workplace, employers must apply these measures in a fair and rational manner. This includes adhering to an affirmative action plan or policy that is in place and ensuring that it is implemented to genuinely advance the achievement of equality without appointing wholly unsuitable candidates.

  • Maintain Transparency and Accountability: Employers should foster an environment of transparency by providing candidates with timely and accurate information regarding promotion processes. Furthermore, decisions around promotions should be accountable and justifiable, aligning with the principles of ethical, accountable, and transparent public administration as mandated by the Constitution.

  • Address Grievances and Feedback Constructively: Employers should have mechanisms in place to address grievances related to promotions. Listening to feedback and addressing concerns can prevent potential disputes from escalating into allegations of unfair labour practices.

Potential Issues and Resolutions

  • Promotion Disputes: Disputes may arise when an employee feels they have been unjustly overlooked for a promotion. Employers should ensure that such disputes are handled through established grievance procedures, providing a fair and impartial platform for resolution.

  • Discrimination Claims: Claims of discrimination can emerge if employees believe promotions were based on factors other than merit, ability, or experience. Employers must demonstrate that promotion decisions were made transparently, based on objective criteria, and in compliance with affirmative action requirements where applicable.

  • Expectation Management: Employers should manage employees' expectations regarding promotions clearly and realistically. This includes communicating the criteria for promotion and the reasons behind promotion decisions openly to all candidates.



  • If an employer is found guilty of committing an unfair labour practice regarding promotions, several remedies or penalties can be applied by the Labour Court or the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA). These remedies aim to correct the unfairness experienced by the employee and can include:

  • Compensation: The employee may be awarded compensation for any loss or damages suffered as a result of the unfair labour practice. The amount of compensation is at the discretion of the Labour Court or the CCMA and is usually capped. According to the LRA, the maximum compensation for unfair labour practices is equivalent to 12 months' remuneration.

  • Reinstatement or Re-employment: In cases where it is applicable and feasible, the employee who was unfairly denied a promotion may be reinstated to the position they would have held had the unfair practice not occurred, or they may be re-employed in a similar position. This is often considered when the employment relationship has not been irreparably damaged.

  • Correction of the Unfair Practice: The employer may be ordered to rectify the unfair practice. For example, if the unfair practice was due to not following a fair procedure in the promotion process, the employer might be required to redo the process in a fair manner.

  • Any other Order: The Labour Court or CCMA has the discretion to make any other order it deems just and equitable in the circumstances. This could include orders related to policy changes within the employer's organization to prevent similar occurrences in the future.


It's important to note that the Labour Relations Act and the CCMA provide a framework for resolving disputes of this nature through arbitration and other dispute resolution mechanisms before escalating to the Labour Court. Employers and employees are encouraged to engage in these processes to find an amicable resolution if they have internally failed to do so.


These remedies are meant to address the specific circumstances of each case based on its own merits. The aim is not only to compensate the affected employee but also to ensure fairness in the employment relationship and to deter employers from engaging in similar practices in the future.


In conclusion, navigating the complexities of promotions and avoiding unfair labour practices require a delicate balance of adhering to legal requirements, implementing fair and transparent procedures, and maintaining open lines of communication with employees. By fostering an environment of fairness and equity, employers can not only comply with legal mandates but also cultivate a workplace culture that values and rewards merit, ability, and experience.

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