Are directors also employees?

Are directors also employees?

INTRODUCTION:

If you have a business of your own, then you will know that the role of a business owner is multi-faceted and often requires the wearing of many different hats. These relate to the roles of a shareholder, a director and an employee. Many business owners wear all three of these hats at once which can be quite challenging if they are not kept distinct and separate. As a shareholder, your attention should be focused on the return you are receiving from your business. As a director, your responsibility is to govern the business in a way that substantially delivers the return that shareholders expect. As an employee, your main obligation will be the tendering of personal services and to further the business interests of the employer. However, outside of the owner-managed scenario, the question arises as to whether a director can generally also be an employee? Let us examine this question in more detail below.

EMPLOYEE VS DIRECTOR AND REMUNERATION:

Generally speaking, there are usually two sources of a director’s remuneration: the one source flows from the fees that he receives for his services as director (example, fees for attending board meetings) and the other source flows from such director’s employment contract (if any) which would provide for the payment of a salary.

A director in his capacity as director is not necessarily an employee of the company and will not always be entitled to the standard rights flowing from an employment contract. It therefore follows that a director is not entitled to be remunerated for his services as a director simply because he has been appointed as a director. Granted, if such director enters into a contract of employment with the company, then he or she will be entitled to those rights that flow from an employment relationship and he would then stand in a position of both an employee and a director.

As a director only, he is not automatically entitled to be remunerated for his services as director. Under the Companies Act, 71 of 2008 (“the Companies Act“), a company may pay remuneration to a director for his services as director, unless it is prohibited by the company’s memorandum of incorporation (“MOI“). Should the MOI prohibit the payment of remuneration to a director, he will not be entitled to remuneration for his services, which is thought to stem from the rule that people in a fiduciary position are not entitled to use their office to profit themselves, unless they have the consent of the majority of the shareholders.

In terms of section 66(9) of the Companies Act, remuneration paid to directors for their service as director may only be paid in accordance with a special resolution approved by the shareholders within the previous two years. However, the words “service as directors” are ambiguous because it is not clear if approval is required only for directors’ services as directors or whether the words are broad enough to include remuneration paid to executive directors in terms of their employment contract.

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE:

The King IV offers some guidance. It embraces the underlying philosophy of ethical leadership, sustainability and corporate citizenship. On the issue of leadership, the board should ensure that all decisions and actions are based on the four values underpinning good corporate governance: responsibility, accountability, fairness and transparency.

As such, King IV differentiates between executive and non-executive directors. An executive director is involved in the day-to-day management of the company. He or she is normally in the full time salaried employ of the company and is generally under a contract of service with the company. A non-executive director, on the other hand, is a part time director who is not considered an employee of the company. Such non-executive director does not manage the company, but rather plays an important role in providing objective, independent judgement on various issues relating to the company. An executive director can therefore be an employee and a director at the same time.

TERMINATION OF SERVICES:

Flowing from the above, there are obvious complications that present itself when a company wants to terminate an executive director’s services. Where the company wishes to remove a director from his office as director and as an employee of the company, the procedure is twofold and reference must be given to both the Companies Act as well as the Labour Relations Act, 66 of 1995 (“the LRA“)

In some instances, the employment contract with the director as employee contains an automatic termination clause which provides that if the director is removed from his office as director, his employment with the company will be automatically terminated or vice versa. In other instances, the MOI of the company will have an automatic termination clause.

However, in the case of Chilliebush v Commissioner Johnson & Others the court held that the insertion of an automatic termination clause into a company’s MOI is in direct contravention with the LRA. The reasoning provided for the court’s decision is that an employer is not at liberty to contractually negotiate the terms of an employee’s dismissal, despite that employee also being a director. Should a company rely on an automatic termination clause as its reasoning for the automatic termination of the director/employee’s contract of employment, such termination does not constitute a fair dismissal for purposes of the LRA. The director/employee will then be well within his rights to proceed to the CCMA on the grounds of unfair dismissal.

The decision is significant because in situations where a director holds two positions (one as a director and one as an employee) his rights as an employee will not be affected by the fact that he is also a director.

Moral Rights In The Context Of Copyright Law In South Africa

INTRODUCTION

In simple terms, a “copyright” is a form of intellectual property right that grants the creator of an original work (“the author“), the legal and exclusive right to the use and distribution of the work (in return for compensation for the author’s intellectual efforts). In this sense, a copyright can be said to be an economic right.

A “moral right” in the context of copyright law, on the other hand, is rather a personal right which attaches to the author, allowing the author to receive the appropriate credit when his/her work is used and it also dictates, to an extent, the way in which an author’s work is treated by others.

In South Africa, copyright law is regulated in terms of the Copyright Act, No. 98 of 1978 (as amended) (“the Act“), and is administered by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, as a branch of the Department of Trade and Industry. In terms of the Act, nine classes of works are eligible for copyright protection and they include literary works, musical works, artistic works, cinematograph films, sound recordings, programme-carrying signals, broadcasts, published editions and computer programs.

 

THE CONCEPT OF MORAL RIGHTS

Section 20 of the Act creates a legal obligation to give credit to works of an author and not to treat it in a derogatory way, and further defines a moral right as a protected right that applies to literary, musical and artistic works, cinematograph films and computer programmes (but excludes sound recordings, broadcasts and published editions) (“work/s”). At its heart, a moral right consists of the right to paternity and the right to integrity of the author’s work. The right to paternity allows the author to claim authorship of the work, whereas the right to integrity allows the author to object to any distortion, mutilation or modification of the author’s work to the extent that any such distortion, mutilation or modification would be prejudicial to the author’s honour or reputation. In other words, if the author reasonably feels that making certain changes in or to his/her works would undermine his/her creative intent or “vision” embodied in those works, he/she can prevent that change from being made, regardless of any economic rights that another person may own in that same work by virtue of a license or copyright.

An author’s moral rights to his/her works are, however, qualified by the economic interests which a copyright seeks to protect, and section 20 of the Act further provides that an author may not object to modifications to his/her works which are absolutely necessary for the commercial exploitation of those works.

It is important to bear in mind that a moral right can only subsist in the above works if such works enjoy copyright in South Africa in the first place.

 

WAIVER AND TRANSFERABILITY OF MORAL RIGHTS

Just like many personal rights, moral rights can be waived by the author and the author can choose not to enforce them. No formalities are prescribed in the Act for the waiver of moral rights, although good practice dictates that any waivers of moral rights be reduced to writing.

Whereas copyrights are freely transferrable, a moral right attaches to the author throughout the author’s lifetime and terminates upon his/her death (or in the case of an author which is a corporate entity, the dissolution of that entity) and cannot be transferred. What is interesting in this regard is that an assignment of copyright leaves the author’s moral rights unaffected and in many instances, the holder of the copyright will still be required to obtain the necessary waivers from the author. In other words, no matter who gets to exploit the economic rights being the subject matter of the copyright, the author will still have the right to be named and given recognition for his/her work (unless he/she waives such right).

 

INFRINGEMENT, ENFORCEMENT AND REMEDIES

A moral right could be infringed by, for example, not properly attributing the work of the author, or treating it in such a manner so as to lower the reputation or dignity of the author. Given the closely related nature of copyright and the moral rights that subsist in the copyright, the statutory remedies which apply to an infringement of copyright would also apply to an infringement of an author’s moral rights. The Act provides for a claim for damages or the imposition of an interdict. These statutory remedies are complemented by common law remedies to the extent that any conduct that violates the dignity and reputation of the author can give rise to a similar claim for damages or an interdict to curtail the infringement.

 

CONCLUSION

Authors in South Africa enjoy a reasonable measure of protection regarding the intellectual products of their labours. South Africans have, however, been slow to enforce these rights and to date, there have been very few reported cases dealing with this area of law. Perhaps the reason why moral rights are so rarely asserted are, firstly, it is a fairly unknown concept in South Africa, and secondly, many commercial agreements governing the use of intellectual property will often include a waiver of the moral rights of the author.

Should you have any queries concerning your business and its use of its own intellectual property and that of others, please feel free to contact us – we would be glad to assist you.