It’s never fair to take from the poor

Garry Hertzberg, practising attorney at Dewey Hertzberg Levy Incorporated

Sitting at a coffee shop having a cup of coffee, I overheard a woman at the next table complaining to her friends that her treasured bottle of Tom Ford Mandarino Di Amalfi perfume, which cost her nearly R3 000, had been smashed by her domestic worker when she had knocked it off the bathroom counter and onto the floor.

Her friend then whinged about her burned silk shirt or something like that and the next joined in whining about some damaged item for which she also blamed her domestic worker.

Similarly, I had recently received a phone call from the mechanic at the dealership who does some work on my car. He was in a state, having been accused by his employer of scuffing a client’s car. His boss was insisting that he pay for the damage and presented him with an agreement, in fact, a loan agreement, compelling him to borrow the money and to pay it back by having deductions made from his salary.

What about a waiter who drops a plate of food or a tray of drinks? Who pays for that?

It might surprise you to find out that, often, vulnerable employees like waiters, bar staff, unskilled labourers and domestic workers are forced to pay for these things out of their meagre hard-earned income.

Is it actually fair to do this?

In law, you can’t deduct money without the employee’s consent and on no account can you bully or coerce an employee into paying or signing a document agreeing to pay. Even when agreed, deductions cannot be more than a quarter of a salary in the normal course, and should be no more than a tenth in the case of a domestic worker.

If you are really insistent on recovering the damage, you would have the normal access to the courts to prove negligence.

Fairness and law are two separate issues and in what world is it fair to take money from the most defenceless employees?

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