What The Law Says: Protection Of Women In The Workplace

What The Law Says: Protection Of Women In The Workplace

It’s Women’s Month. The month that we honour the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against the Pass Laws being extended to women. We thought it would be useful to provide a quick overview of important laws that have been put in place since that historic day to protect women at work.

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) [1]

The LRA protects a woman from being unfairly dismissed if she is pregnant or intending to become pregnant, or for any reason related to her pregnancy [2]. If an employee is dismissed for any of these reasons the dismissal will be regarded as automatically unfair which means the employee could be awarded up to two years compensation if she takes legal action against her employer. 

The Employee Equity Act (EEA) [3] 

The EEA specifically protects women in the workplace from being unfairly discriminated against because of their gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility or culture [4]. The Act also puts an obligation on the employer to promote equal opportunity in the workplace by eliminating unfair discrimination in any employment policy or practice. It’s the principle of giving everyone the ‘same chance’. So for example, anyone competing for a position in the company should have the same chance of getting the job if they are right for it. 

And if there is unfair discrimination, what can you do about it? Let’s take an example. Zoezie, a female employee, believes she is being unfairly discriminated against because she is not paid the same as her male colleagues for doing the same work. In this case she should first be able to lodge an internal complaint in terms of the company’s salary and wage policy. If this is unsuccessful, Zoezie can refer the matter to the CCMA for conciliation. If the conciliation fails, the matter will be referred to the Labour Court. And if the Labour Court finds that she has been unfairly discriminated against it can award Zoezie compensation as well as damages. 

The EEA confirms that women employees should be awarded equal pay for equal work [5]. This introduced a new concept and confirmed that if two employees perform work that is equal in value and do not get the same pay because of one of the listed grounds of discrimination, the act will be regarded as unfair. This ensures protection for women who often earn less solely based on their gender and sex.

Basic conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) [6]:

The BCEA specifically makes provision for the right of women to take maternity leave, when they can do this and what the employer’s duties are in this situation [7]. The Act also provides for adoption leave [8] and family responsibility leave [9], clearly confirming the right of women to take leave in particular situations. It also describes what an employer’s rights and expectations are when a woman does take leave for pregnancy, adoption or family responsibilities.

Ending off…

All of these Acts and the protection they give women serve as evidence of the strength and determination of women to ensure recognition and application of women’s rights at work. So in women’s month let’s celebrate what women have achieved and the role they have played in driving equality in the workplace. 

Keep an eye out for our August Articles that go into more detail about the protection of women at work and the impact this has had more broadly on labour rights. 

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  • [1] 66 of 1995
  • [2] section 186(c)(i)-(ii) ; section 187 (1)(e)
  • [3] 55 of 1998
  • [4] Section 6(1) Employment Equity Act
  • [5] Section 6(4) Employment Equity Act 
  • [6] 75 of 1997
  • [7] Section 25 Basic Conditions of Employment Act 
  • [8] Amendment Regulations of Basic Conditions Employment Act – Section 25B
  • [9] section 27 and Amendment Regulations of Basic Conditions Employment Act – Section 25A