U.S. | South Africa: Labor and Employment Law Overview

This article provides of overview of the labor and employment laws in the United States and South Africa.  Labor and employment lawyers from outside the United States often have misperceptions about the nature of our laws. In the United States, there is a general presumption of ““at-will”” employment. At- will employment means that either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment relationship without notice or cause. Thus, many foreign employers believe that employees may be dismissed with impunity.  But this is far from the case –– the employment relationship in the United States is heavily regulated, on federal and state levels. Laws prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and the penalties are unmatched in any jurisdiction, with juries permitted to award punitive damages, as well as damages for “emotional distress,” so that even a “garden variety” claim of discrimination may result in a multi-million-dollar award. Nevertheless, as a general rule, it is fair to say that the rules in the United States are generally more flexible than elsewhere, and companies generally find a welcome environment there.  By contrast, there is a perception in some minds that the legislative regime in South Africa creates a legal minefield for those wishing to do business there, especially in regard to employment issues. The reality is that, in many respects, the law facilitates transactions and permits for a degree of flexibility that can assist parties in their commercial endeavors. An understanding of the South African legal environment and possibilities can help parties structure their deals in ways that allow them to take advantage of those areas in which the law can assist and to minimize risks by following the correct procedures where consultation or negotiation is required.

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