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Reasonable can be explained as the employee has the necessary knowledge, skills, capability and ability to carry out the instruction. Instructing someone to do something they clearly can’t do is unreasonable. So, for example, a bricklayer can’t all of a sudden be expected to do welding work, as this wouldn’t be a reasonable extension of his current duties.
Reasonable also means it must be reasonable under the circumstances. For example, demanding that a single mother work overtime because an order came in late when there is no one else who can fetch her child from daycare is unreasonable. It’s every employee’s duty to protect the employer's interests, and refusing to do so for no other reason than it would require overtime work is unacceptable, but the employer must be reasonable in their request. Employees can’t refuse a request unreasonably, but employers also cannot call something an “emergency” when it isn’t. So for example, if the sales clerk forgets to log an order for a client and then logs it late, it would be unreasonable to expect the driver to carry out a delivery after hours.
So when is a request from my employer unfair? Each situation must be analysed individually, but generally speaking, a change in your job (duties, responsibilities, etc.) is only unfair if it amounts to a change in the terms and conditions of your employment. This is a unilateral change, and is not allowed by law. If you find yourself in this situation, the best solution would be to chat to your employer directly about the issue, and try to reach a compromise. But if this doesn’t work, you can refer your matter to the relevant forum (CCMA or Bargaining Council).
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* This is only basic advice and cannot be relied on solely. Names have been changed to protect identity.
Date added: 31 December 2019
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