Damage or loss caused by domestic employee

 In Blog

damage or loss - broken glassDamage or loss – We love our domestic workers and gardeners. They look after and assist us with the things close to our hearts. We trust them with people and the items dearest to us. However, things happen and at times they cause damage or loss.  Mostly it does not happen that often, I mean, accidents do happen.

If our domestic employees start breaking stuff on a frequent basis, what do we do? Are they plain clumsy, or do they rush their jobs?


This seems to be a rhetorical question. What training does a domestic employee need? – I hear you ask. Using a vacuum cleaner or lawnmower or cleaning fine crystal may seem second nature to some of us, but it does not apply to all South Africans. Our social reality has created the very real situation where some of our people do not have access to modern appliances of their own. No expensive ‘Le Creuset’ kitchenware either. Fine crystal wine glasses? Nope… Point made.

Training, no matter how unimportant or menial it may seem, is crucial to ensure our employees have the required knowledge and respect for our property. Explain the use of the vacuum cleaner, weed eater and lawnmower to them. Do not assume they know it all. Mention to them that the fine crystal glass will break if it is bumped against the tap while being washed.

In short, talk to your employees – ensure they know how everything works and train them on the use of new appliances. Do not assume they have experience in handing all your breakable goodies.  Good communication should assist in reducing domestic damage or loss.


So, you have followed the advice and spent some time training your domestic employees. Yet, breakages are still unacceptably high. You have concluded that the employee has an attitude problem and just does not care. You decide to deduct the value of the breakage from the employee’s wages at the end of the month. Not a good idea. Such one-sided action is not allowed in terms of current legislation.

According to the Department of Labour, the following must be followed regarding deductions:

Employers may not charge workers for-

o training
o equipment or tools
o work clothing
o food
o fines

Employers may deduct-

o the rand value of any unpaid leave
o no more than 10% of total wages for-
-accommodation; and/or
-repayment of loans or advances
o amounts paid to third parties (e.g. banks, unions, etc.) on behalf of the worker (with worker’s written consent)

Then, regarding breakages – deductions for damage or loss caused by the worker may only be made if –

o the employer has followed a fair procedure and given the worker a chance to show why the deduction should not be made,
o the worker agrees in writing, and
o the total deduction is not more than 25% of the worker’s net pay.


In the case of damage or loss, you, as the employer, must follow a fair procedure. This does not have to be a formal disciplinary enquiry, it can be an informal, recorded discussion. As long as the employee has the opportunity to state his or her case. However, in cases where there was expensive damage to, say, a company vehicle, a formal enquiry may be more appropriate. Depending on the facts of the case, the sanction may be a warning (even final warning, if very serious), and at times may include the recovery of damages.

However, the law requires that in the case where the sanction requires the recovery of loss or damages, the employee must agree to it. The employee must state in writing that he or she agrees to re-pay the value of the loss. What do you do if he or she refuses to agree? You cannot force the employee to agree, and in such a case, the warning will have to suffice.


The law is strict on deductions to protect vulnerable employees from exploitation. The fact remains – without the employee’s written consent, you may not make any deduction for loss or damages, even after a fair procedure was followed.

The best way to pro-actively address this, is for employers to agree upfront with employees in their contracts of employment under which circumstances deductions may be made and the procedures that will be followed prior to making such a deduction. By doing this the employee upfront agreed to the deduction after a fair procedure has been complied with. The need for a detailed written employment contract is thus imperative.

Do you have one in place?

Recent Posts