|2012 05 30 Mom goes to court over work shifts|
A metro police officer and single mother of an autistic child is taking her bosses to court next week, claiming that constant post transfers and shift changes were affecting her little boy.
The case, to be heard in Durban's Labour Court, is believed to be the first dealing with family responsibility, which is a protected ground under the Employment Equity Act.
Suraya Hugo, a captain in the municipal police service, says the well-being of her four-year-old son was severely prejudiced by her "repeated unreasonable and unlawful transfers" during the period of a year.
She said that despite her requests that her family responsibility required reasonable accommodation, the transfers continued to occur without her being consulted.
She is now seeking an order to have the transfers set aside and have her restored to her post at the municipal court. Alternatively, she is seeking an order to direct the police to consult her about a post that would allow her to accommodate her family responsibility.
Hugo said that from April 2007 to October 2009, she had been stationed at the municipal court and her work hours were from 7am to 4pm. The placement suited her as it allowed her to attend to her son's need for a stable routine.
However, from October 2009 to October 2010, she was transferred five times and had her work hours changed.
She was first moved to the weighbridge, but did not report for duty owing to medical reasons. Six days later, she was transferred to the beachfront to do shift work. She was ill again and did not report to the beachfront until March 2010. Less than a week after returning to work, Hugo was transferred again to the central region.
In June 2010, she was moved back to the beachfront, but the municipality's human resources department intervened and recommended that she remain at the central region.
In October 2010, Hugo was sent back to the beachfront and later that month was booked off and has not returned to work since then, owing to medical reasons.
Hugo said that during these transfers, her son was emotionally affected by the constant changes in his routine as his medical condition meant that he did not cope well with disturbances. She lodged a formal grievance, but it was not resolved. The matter was referred to conciliation, but it was unsuccessful.
Hugo's lawyers from Durban Legal Resources Centre said that metro police had failed to follow their own guidelines on transfers and the Employment Equity Act. According to the papers, the act imposes an obligation on police to reasonably accommodate Hugo's family responsibility and special circumstances when considering whether to transfer her or alter her shift allocation. "This obligation is heightened in the case of a primary care giver and single mother of a child with special needs, based on his autistic condition."
The Legal Resources Centre said that the police ought to have consulted Hugo before taking a decision about her transfer, and were obliged to take a decision that did not interfere with her special needs or unfairly discriminate against her.
The metro police claim that Hugo was moved from the court because it was a waste of human resources to have a captain overseeing only four employees. They said Hugo was not sent to the weighbridge but to the beach post, which was "100m away from the traffic court".
The police also stated that Hugo was not transferred but was instructed to report to the beach post.
"On or about October 21, 2009 the applicant was deployed to the beach, which instruction the applicant refused to obey. There were no subsequent redeployments but rather instructions to the applicant to obey the original instruction," the police stated.
"It is not for the employee to dictate to the employer where the employee wishes to perform the services."
Tania Broughton and Kamini Padayachee