Working from home – tips

Extended lockdowns have resulted in Employers having to scramble to provide an on-line working environment for employees.
Many companies may have never ventured down the Working From Home (WFH) route if the Covid-19 pandemic had not forced them to take action, for most it was a question of “sink or swim”. Those that rose to the challenge will no doubt have managed to position themselves more favourably in the market place. A combination of adaptability and availability will make these businesses more accessible to their customers and promise some form of continuity in a potentially stressful long-term working environment.
It must be remembered WFH is nothing new and has been around for a while with many Companies having embraced the concept and accepted the challenges in a changing work environment. The advent of fast and reliable connectivity being available in every day homes has proved to be a game-changer and is no longer considered a luxury but rather a necessity.

Challenges of WFH

For the working partnership between employer and employee to be successful there are practical issues we need to be thinking about. Be brutally realistic with what you can achieve. Setting goals for a perfect eight-hour, work-structured day will not always happen, particularly where there are distractions such as small children needing assistance with home schooling, a boisterous dog or the necessary demands of household chores to keep homes running smoothly.
Yes, you may achieve the eight hours, maybe not in one or two tranches, but over the day. Start by setting goals and planning around meetings or task deadlines and be ruthlessly efficient with managing your diary, capture all work, meetings and deliverables in detail (there are no colleagues close at hand to remind you) and then realistically include the other essentials. Parents can share the load and work out a roster for child-care and chores. Time can be made up later in the evening when the young ones are asleep.
Keep focused during the work week, keep the time for work related items and let the weekend be the time for major household chores or fun activities.

1. Create your workspace

This is essential for sanity in any WFH environment. Younger employees who may not necessarily have the distraction of children, have all agreed that it becomes important to define work as opposed to home activities. It makes for a boring existence if these activities all drift into each other as they are conducted in the same space. A tiny area will do, even if you have to screen it in some way, this is the area where there are different norms, where you drink coffee not wine and where you take business calls from people that you need to impress, where income generation is the order of the day and company duties are attended to.
For those able to have comfortable chairs and desks, space to spread files out and necessary equipment at hand, enjoy the benefits! Many employees may not have this luxury. Be innovative with your designated area so that it feels special and different to you. There is no excuse to be boring and you need to look forward to going to the office! There should be buy-in from fellow house mates, even if you set up an imaginary door, make them knock and ask if it’s convenient to disturb you, demand respect for your office and its function.

2. Maintain a routine

The experts all tell us, establish a routine. Whatever works for you, we are all different and there are certain triggers that assist us to be more efficient in a working environment. It may be sitting in a particular space or at a specific desk or having certain objects close at hand. Perhaps it’s the morning routine of showering, having coffee and breakfast and checking the clock for the start to your workday; identify what your zone is. Many employees have mentioned that they ideally would like to maintain an unchanged routine to that of their normal day; in the new work zone this may not always be feasible as you juggle third party and home related issues.

3. Be presentable

In our widely connected workspace with Team Chats and Zoom, meetings or appointments can happen quickly and sometimes without notice, don’t be that person caught unshaven and in their track suit. Will anyone really care, maybe not, but they will remember it. Dress properly, be well groomed and ready for anything, you never know when opportunity comes knocking. If you are still in your pyjamas at ten in the morning it reflects in your voice and attitude.

4. Communicate efficiently

Out of sight, out of mind should not apply, stay in touch with colleagues and clients alike. If your team leader or manager is not hearing from you or about you, they are more likely to assume that nothing is happening; this makes for an uneasy working relationship and your silence sends its own message. It has been found that a morning or even daily check-in as a team is valuable for keeping morale high and focus keen. Make sure that all members of the team are given an opportunity to provide detail in their own words. Keep abreast, keep in touch and stay connected. During the lockdown period it is especially important that customers and clients are contacted and know you are available to them, business is going to become tough, be up for the fight! Work environments will change and develop, as a Company you want to be remembered and be the first point of call.

5. Establish trust

A difficult element to introduce into the WFH plan between managers and co-workers, if you are working as expected, for a full shift over a day, staying in touch and engaged in expected tasks and projects and doing it well and all the time, you will build integrity. If you normally worked some overtime to get things done or started early in the morning, keep the habit, it saves employers time and energy having to constantly check in on you. The key rule for the WFH formula is to get information to your manager, before they know they need it. We are living through an extraordinary moment in history; many people in South Africa have no income and are living in poverty. Guard employment as a precious commodity and do more than is needed on all levels, small sacrifices will be remembered and appreciated. There is nothing more important than your integrity; if you are trusted it speaks volumes.

6. Wellness

We are human beings and there is a lot in our make-up that needs to be thought about to ensure overall wellness. Work adds to stresses that need to be managed, but work doesn’t change the need to be aware of our overall health. We need to be intelligent and proactive about both our mental and physical health at all times, but especially during a forced lockdown. Be actively engaged in ensuring that you attend to both of these very important aspects of our lives.

7. Socialising

Socialising brings joy to our living even if we have to do it in a virtual space in the short-term. Explore and build interaction amongst colleagues, we all need it and in a work environment there are special bonds that are created by being involved in similar situations and having similar experiences.
Many Companies will find that this lockdown time may open up new ways of working with their employees, particularly if they find that WFH is successful. Employers will need to engage with their HR Departments and HR Providers to ensure that policy changes are made to accommodate a different working environment. It is not always plain sailing and people generally bring their own challenges so be prepared for checks and balances to ensure that there is understanding by employees of expectations. Similarly, we should be engaging with organisations that have already been doing it well and finding out what they have learnt.
We must not be afraid of seeking new avenues of work which may develop as a result of the change, whilst the old ones become increasingly irrelevant, now more than ever adaptability must be the new norm.

Be optimistic and keep sight of the end game

In the context of the lockdown and events surrounding us there is considerable room for pessimism as business owners, employers, managers and leaders. Yes, we do not know the outcome of events. Yes, it is difficult to manage anything without any certainty. However, history shows us that things will recover. We will get out of this and those best able to remain optimistic and to look for opportunities will be those who mentally, physically and commercially will thrive when things get better. Your state of mind through this will be critical.

I sat in an HR conference recently where the speaker talked to the 3 P’s of optimism as developed by Martin Seligman (the author of Learned Optimism). These are very relevant to our current situation so let’s deal with them:

  • (P)ermanence – pessimists tend to assume current conditions will last for ever while optimists recognise they are temporary, often cyclical and things will get better;
  • (P)ervasiveness – pessimists assume that a mistake or problems in one area are all consuming and let it impact their business, personal and spiritual well-being. Optimists tend to isolate the issue and say “ok, that didn’t go so well there”, but don’t let it impact their situation elsewhere;
  • (P)ersonalisation – pessimists assume all set backs are personal. Optimists recognise that issues may partly be due to them, but that often bad luck or external events play a big role.

Consider the events around you. We are all in this together. This was not caused by our neighbours. We could decide to be fatalistic about it or we can use it as an opportunity to strengthen our business, look for new opportunities, broaden our horizons and build stronger bonds with people…

Budget change – Tax and exchange control treatment of individuals

(source: treasury.gov.za)

Following reforms to the income tax treatment of South African tax residents who receive remuneration outside the country, government proposes to remove the exchange control treatment for individuals, while strengthening the tax treatment. The intention is to allow individuals who work abroad more flexibility, provided funds are legitimately sourced and the individual is in good standing with the South African Revenue Service. Individuals who transfer more than R10 million offshore will be subjected to a more stringent verification process. Such transfers will also trigger a risk management test that will include certification of tax status and the source of funds, and assurance that the individual complies with anti-money laundering and countering terror financing requirements prescribed in the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (2001). This will be phased in by 1 March 2021.

Under the new system, natural person emigrants and natural person residents will be treated identically. Additional restrictions on emigrants – such as the restrictions on emigrants being allowed to invest, and the requirement to only operate blocked accounts, have bank accounts and borrow in South Africa – have been repealed. The concept of emigration as recognised by the Reserve Bank will be phased out, to be replaced by a verification process based on the requirements above. Tax residency for individuals will continue to be determined by the ordinarily resident and physically present tests as set out in the Income Tax Act (1962). Under existing international standards, South Africa participates in the automatic sharing of information between tax authorities on individuals’ financial accounts and investments. These cooperative practices will remain in place to ensure that South African tax residents who have offshore income and investments pay the appropriate level of tax.

Suth African 2020 budget highlights

In a bit of a turnaround the Finance Minister delivered a budget with very little in the way of tax changes and more importantly no increase in VAT or income tax rates.

Tax changes in the budget include (source treasury.gov.za):

  • Given the weak economic outlook, government will not raise additional revenue from tax proposals in 2020/21
  • Tax revenue is projected to grow by 4.9 per cent in 2020/21
  • The main tax proposals include:
    • Providing personal income tax relief through an above inflation increase in the brackets (5.2% vs inflation of 4.2%) and rebates
    • Increasing medical aid tax credits from R310 to R319 for the first two beneficiaries and from R209 to R215 per month for the remaining beneficiaries
    • Further limiting corporate interest deductions to combat base erosion and profit shifting
    • Restricting the ability of companies to fully offset assessed losses from previous years against taxable income.
    • Increasing the fuel levy by 25c/litre, consisting of a 16c/litre increase in the general fuel levy and a 9c/litre increase in the RAF levy, to adjust for inflation
    • Increasing the annual contribution limit to tax-free savings accounts by R3 000 from 1 March 2020.
    • Increasing excise duties on alcohol and tobacco by between 4.4 and 7.5 per cent
    • Increasing the brackets for transfer duty by inflation (transfer duty on residential properties will now start for properties over R1mn)
  • Government will increase the cap on the exemption of foreign remuneration earned by South African tax residents to R1.25 million per year from 1 March 2020. Some advisors have recommended emigration, as recognised by the Reserve Bank, as a way to break tax residency. However, this is only one factor considered by SARS. Government wants to encourage all South Africans working abroad to maintain their ties to the country. Consequently, this concept of emigration will be phased out by 1 March 2021.
  • The revitalisation of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) is under way, and this is expected to contribute to increased tax revenue over the medium term.
  • South Africa aims to strengthen its progressive tax system, while broadening the tax base and removing exemptions. In line with this approach, government will review tax incentives over the medium term, and repeal or redesign those that are inefficient or inequitable.

Proactive HR

What do you mean by “proactive HR”?

For many employers, HR is largely reactive. Responding to events within the organisation as they arise – grievances, high levels of absenteeism, collective action, operational performance issues. By the time issues escalate to this level it requires significant management attention to resolve.

The concept of proactive HR looks to identify and deal with HR issues before they become problematic and use up senior management time. 

We do this in a number of ways:

  1. We use a series of tools to identify “problem” areas before they escalate. This includes analysing data to identify employees who are disillusioned, not engaged or potential trouble-makers. We then, together with local management, proactively manage these employees before bigger issues arise. In our experience, HR ends up looking fantastic through this process because it allows them to:
    – Clearly show senior management where they are adding value;
    – Impress local management with their ability to see into the organisation (and keep them on their toes); and
    – Improve local management performance by identifying and coaching those local managers who were aware of an issue, but were not sufficiently skilled or proactive to manage their team themselves;
  2. Through daily experience with employee arbitrations, we know that employers tend to win matters consistently when they have the right documentation in place, have gone through a proper process with employees and are fair in their dealings with employees. The second pillar of proactive HR is therefore to get the basics right. This can be done at reasonable cost by just following a few easy steps and in the long run results in significantly lower senior management involvement, time and cost.
  3. The majority of collective employee disengagement, frustration and conflict stems from poor or no communication in the organisation. This is often a more difficult area to get the right balance. We use a number of tools to improve HR communication. This makes HR more visible to all and helps to identify bigger issues before they become problems.

If you would like to know more about proactive HR and how HRTorQue can help, please feel free to contact us at [email protected].

The Importance of Payroll Reconciliations

Having processed payrolls for multiple clients over many years one of the things we have noticed is that often a reconciliation is not performed (or not performed well) between the processed payroll, the actual payments made to employees and third parties; and the general ledger recorded in an employer’s books.

This lack of a solid reconciliation occurs for a number of good reasons:

•   Confidentiality – the finance team performing the recons are not privy to detailed employee information (and senior finance don’t have the time to do the recons themselves);
Understanding – some of the issues that arise in payroll can be confusing/complex either from an HR/tax perspective or from an accounting perspective;
Communication – the payroll may be processed by HR, but nobody communicates with the person doing the recon to explain why specific transactions have taken place;

The downside to either no recon being performed or a recon being performed badly leads to a number of risks for the business from an accounting perspective:

•   Leave and bonus provisions are not recorded accurately
The general ledger may balance, but employer contributions and fringe benefits (double sided entries) may not have been coded and do not appear on the general ledger
The general ledger may assume that all nett pay and third party payments have been made and reflect no liability whereas in reality some payments may not have gone through properly (e.g. garnishees) or where payments have been deliberately withheld until an issue is resolved
The balance sheet may not accurately reflect loan accounts, SARS liabilities (incl ETI) and employees with negative net pay (never recovered)

We would highly recommend employers perform a reconciliation between their payroll, general ledger and EFT payments. This is a critical control. Our accounting team is available to assist with this to offer a confidential, professional service, should you wish to take this route.

HRTorQue is Moving

You may see the “for sale” signs up at our offices at 163 Umhlanga Rocks Drive.

On 1 September HRTorQue’s Durban offices are moving to 6 Pencarrow Crescent in Pencarrow Business Park, La Lucia Ridge, Umhlanga.

We will notify all clients of these details closer to the time of our move.

HRTorQue December Office Closure

HRTorQue will be closing on 22 December 2016, and will re-open on 9 January 2017.

During this time, we shall have a skeleton staff to cater for those clients we know will not be closing. We shall make special arrangements for staff to be available for them. During the shutdown time, we will monitor the [email protected] email address.

In case of emergency only please contact:
Karen van den Bergh: 082 891 1722 (for any payroll or 3rd party payment queries)
Nicky Hardwick: 083 788 6999 (for any labour or HR issues) or email [email protected]

Are CCMA arbitration awards enforceable?

Editor: The Courts have ruled CCMA arbitration awards are enforceable. Given the uncertain nature of arbitrations, we would really encourage employers to improve their internal dismissal process and manager training to reduce the likelihood of their appearing before the CCMA.

The amended section 143 of the Labour Relations Act that came into operation at the beginning of 2015 reads as follows:

  1. An arbitration award issued by a commissioner is final and binding and it may be enforced as it was van order of the Labour Court in respect of which a writ has been issued, unless it is an advisory award.
  2. An arbitration award may only be enforced in terms of section (1) if the director has certified that the arbitration award is an award contemplated in subsection (1).

Court Interpretation

The interpretation of section 143(1) and (3) came under scrutiny in MBS Transport CC V CCMA and Others (Case no J1807/15 – Labour Court), and CCMA v MBS Transport CC and Others (Case JI807/15- Labour Appeal Court).

Dustin Julius (the employee) approached the CCMA to have his award enforced in terms of section 143. Once the award was certified the employee delivered same to the relevant sheriff to execute on. The employer approached the Labour Court for an order to stay the enforcement of the award pending the review of the award. The Court made the following order: “It is declared that the CCMA does not have jurisdiction to issue writs of execution in respect of the arbitration awards issued by it. Having examined section 143, and taking into consideration that the CCMA was not a court of law; the court found that the CCMA was not assigned the statutory power to issue writs.

The CCMA appealed the finding at the Labour Appeal Court (LAC). The LAC examined the history and context of section 143 and came to the following conclusion (delivered on 28 June 2016):

  1. In the original enactment of section 143 an arbitration award could only be enforced by an application in terms of section 158 to the Labour Court.
  2. This proved largely ineffective due to both time and cost factors.
  3. The 2002 amendment of section 143 provided the opportunity to issue a writ at the Registrar of the Labour Court on the strength of the certified award by the CCMA.
  4. The procedure still required the employee to approach the Labour Court.
  5. The proper interpretation of the further amendment of section 143 in 2014, that came into operation at the beginning of 2015, provided that, once an award has been certified, it could be presented to the sheriff for execution. The LAC found that the words “as it was an order of the Labour Court” in section 143(1) created a fiction that the CCMA is at liberty to issue a writ, despite the fact that the CCMA is not a court of law.
  6. The LAC held that the legislature intended to make it “easier, inexpensive, effective and accessible for a person to enforce a certified arbitration award”.

For these reasons the LAC set aside the Labour Court’s finding.

What does this mean in practice?

Any arbitration can lead to unusual results, which can now be enforced by the CCMA. It would be advisable to avoid this situation by making sure you manage your dismissal process to reduce the likelihood of being subject to the CCMA. Line managers should be trained to conduct proper pre-investigations. It might also be a good idea to make use of external specialists to chair formal disciplinary hearings of a complex nature.