Top 5 employee rights every small business owner should understand

Employee rights

Understanding employee rights is critical for every business owner. No matter how tech savvy your business is, your team plays a pivotal role in your venture’s journey to success.If your people are happy and feel valued then they are more likely to have your business’s best interests at heart. However, if your people feel they are treated unfairly, then you’re in for a difficult time.

Concepts such as “fair” and “valued” can be relatively subjective. It’s hard to find a good balance between being nice, making sure enough work gets done, and ensuring your cash flow is stable enough to pay everyone’s wages.

A good starting point, however, is to know what the basic employee rights are for things such as leave days, remuneration and duties. Treat these as a benchmark and see where you can feasibly give your employees a little extra to help them know you value them.

Employee Rights 1: Work Hours

Employee rights work hours

More hours worked doesn’t always equate to more productivity. Be aware of what the maximum hours are people should legally work and make sure your employees aren’t over-doing it.

Employees can work a maximum of 45 hours per week. That’s 9 hours per day for 5 days a week or 8 hours per day for 6 days a week.

Employees are also entitled to take a 60-minute break after 5 hours of work.

Employee Rights 2: Overtime Pay

Employee rights overtime pay

Employees cannot be asked to work more than 12 hours a day. People who work overtime are entitled to 1 and a half times their normal pay and double their normal pay if they work on Sundays.

You can choose to give your staff time off instead of overtime payment. Although legally the employee doesn’t have to consent to the time-off in lieu of payment, it’s a good idea to chat through it with them and be upfront so you keep the relationship healthy.

For every hour of overtime worked the employee can either get 30 minutes off + 1-hour normal pay or 90 minutes off + no additional pay.

Question #1: If Sunday is a normal working day for my staff do I still have to pay double the hourly rate?

No, in this instance the employee must be paid 1.5 times the normal rate.

Note that only employees who are paid above the threshold amount (R205 433.30 per annum) are not legally entitled to overtime pay. Overtime is an aspect that will be worked out in the employment contract.

Employee Rights 3: Leave Days

Employee rights leave days

People often argue whether the legal minimum is 15 or 21 annual leave days. Let’s clear this up.

Employees are entitled to 21 consecutive days off per year which equates to 15 working days off (if they work 5 days per week) and 18 days off if they work 6 days per week.

Question #2: What happens if my business shuts down for the holidays?

You can stipulate that employees take their leave during your business’s ‘shutdown’ period. If they have already used their leave this would mean they will take unpaid leave during the shutdown period. If your business does shut down each year, make sure this is clearly communicated to your employees.

Employee Rights 4: Sick Leave

Employee rights Sick leave

In every sick leave cycle (36 months or 3 years), employees are given a number of paid sick days equal to the number of days they would work in a 6 week period. Confused? Let’s break it down.

If you have a full-time employee who works 5 days a week then that employee is entitled to 30 days over a period of 3 years. If your employee works 4 days per week then they are entitled to 24 sick days over 3 years.

Question #3: When should I ask for a medical certificate?

If the employee is off for more than 2 consecutive days (3 days or more) OR on 2 occasions during an 8 week period then they are required to produce a medical certificate.

But what about Fridays and Mondays?

Technically, it is not legal for the employer to ask for a medical certificate because the staff member took the day off before or after a weekend or public holiday. Should this happen regularly and it’s damaging productivity then we suggest having an honest conversation with the employee.

Employee Rights 5: Minimum Wage

There is no one-size-fits-all minimum wage across the country (although this may change in the near future). There are different minimum wages set depending on the business sector and area. We will briefly look at the hospitality and retail sector.


Employee rights Hospitality min wage

If your business employs less than 10 people and they work for 45 hours per week, then the minimum wage is set at R2959.35 per month OR R15.17 per hour

If your business employs more than 10 people and they work for 45 hours per week, then the minimum wage is set at R3298.52 per month OR R16.91 per hour.

Find out more about minimum wages in the hospitality sector here.

Question #4: Can you pay hospitality staff on commission and tips alone?

If both you and the employee agree in writing to a commission based payment model then it is legal.  The caveat, however, is that the amount earned via commission cannot be less than the hourly wage. For example, if your restaurant has a slow night and the waitrons only earn R10 per hour, then the business owner will have to pay in the remaining R6,91 or R5,17 for each hour worked.


The minimum wage in the retail and wholesale sector differs by area and job category. The full list can be found here.
To get a rough idea of the numbers, here are a few of the highest hourly rates:

Employee rights Minimum wage retail


Cashiers should earn a minimum of R26,07 per hour

Merchandiser/shop assistant: R24.59 per hour

Assistant manager: R34.28 per hour

Manager: R37.59 per hour

There are many other employee rights that are important to be aware of. Make sure you do your research. We also suggest saving a copy of the Basic conditions of Employment act so you can refer back to it.

Download it here

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