Harassment in the workplace in South Africa is primarily regulated by the Employment Equity Act (EEA), which categorises the harassment of an employee as a form of unfair discrimination. However, a recent judgment indicates that claims of harassment can also be brought under a more recent piece of legislation, namely the Protection from Harassment Act (the Harassment Act).
In Mnyandu v Padayachi  4 All SA 110 (KZP), the High Court considered an appeal against a decision by the Magistrates Court, which had found that a single email sent by Ms Mnyandu to a group of fellow employees in which she had made some false accusations against Mr Padayachi, constituted harassment for the purposes of the Harassment Act. The Magistrates Court had issued a protection order (a form of injunction) against Ms Myandu.
In its judgment, the High Court found that, on the facts, Ms Mnyandu’s conduct in sending the single email and in making the accusations that she had in the email, was unreasonable, but it did not constitute harassment for the purposes of the Harassment Act because (a) the conduct was not objectively oppressive nor did it have the gravity to constitute harassment and (b) for there to be harassment, what is required is repetitive conduct or a pattern of behaviour (even though this is not an express requirement in the Harassment Act).
The significance of the case is, firstly, that it indicates that employees who experience harassment in the workplace that may not qualify as unfair discrimination under the EEA (e.g. if the harassment is not due to race, gender or some other ground of discrimination), could potentially obtain a remedy under the Harassment Act instead and, secondly, a single act is unlikely to qualify as harassment (under the Harassment Act at least).