Thrown Under an 18-Wheeler Truck

when a star employee is dismissed for being sick

Mike Brown the CEO of Nedbank who initiated communication with Jamilah only for the bank’s attorneys to send her a cease and desist email; “…don’t communicate with our client…”

In Brief

  • Why are employers, even those with very healthy balance-sheets, failing their employees inflicted with mental illnesses? On paper, most employers seem to have a system aimed at aiding their staff, but in the case of Nedbank, with the Union (IBSA) outmuscled by the bank’s high-priced attorneys, employees are kicked to the curb and left to fend for themselves.
  • Jamilah who spent her entire adult life working for the bank has been rendered destitute. Lost her job at the bank and is now on the brink of losing her family home. In this two-part tale, uSpiked takes you through her life story.

A diagnosis of depression should not be grounds for dismissing an employee. A worker with a mental health condition has a constitutional right to equality, human dignity, reasonable accommodation and fair labour practices under South African law.

However, the Nedbank group has been able to circumvent these employees’ protections through several tactics, including a cosy relationship with the finance union IBSA and legal muscles. Expensive lawyers, some related to the bank's bosses, step in to represent disgruntled workers, resulting in settlements that protect the interests of the bank.

Two former employees of Nedbank say that the company made them grand promises and then fired them. Herein we begin with *Jamilah's story, which we tell with supporting documentation.

In 1994, nearly six months after the country celebrated new political dispensation, an 18-year-old Jamilah started an internship at Nedbank Vaal's CD processing centre and proved herself worthy of a contract. She got a part-time contract and then permanent employment with the bank in a short space of time.

"I had no experience. But I worked hard and won awards for my performance. My passion for banking began then, and I decided to skip college even though I had passed my matric," says Jamilah.

But she does not dwell on the fact that she had to choose between studying and paying the black tax. The family - her parents and eight other siblings - depended on her salary.

Jamila began to spot fraud and saved the bank a lot of money. As a reward for her excellence, in 1996, Nedbank's Florida branch awarded her a bonus of R5 000. She spent it on her 21st birthday party. Jamilah transferred her parent's mortgage from FNB to Nedbank and had the bond registered to her name three years later.

After proving her value to Nedbank, the bank realised that Jamilah was an employee worth more than gold. She was transferred to the bank's home loans division whereat she first worked the specialised services deceased estate from 2005. At this point Jamilah had initated a Government Project on her own where she negotiated with the City of Johannesburg and he Housing Departments to assist the Indigenous people namely pensioners,  orphans  and disabled people. The strectched the projet to all the bank only STD  and Nedbank agreed to this social responsibility to assist their distresse clients. For this, Jamilah won the Top Achiever’s award and the prize was fully-paid holiday trip to Turkey.

She kept climbing the corporate ladder in 2009, she was once again moved to risk assessment and support. Jamila championed the bank and the clients, even saving homes for owners when the bank was at fault. For example, Nedbank returned a repossessed house to the Beauzick family of Mitchells Plain and paid them R250 000 “for the stress and inconvenience caused.” The bank mistakenly repossessed the house and sold it to a new owner, and the family's moveable properties got destroyed during the eviction. Jamila discovered that the bank had sold the Beauzicks an insurance policy for which they had been paying the premiums. She did not know then that her family would lose their home to the same bank a few years later.

The pressure of dealing with desperate homeowners fighting to keep their homes or losing homes, and her personal circumstances, sent Jamila into a downward spiral of depression. But she still performed exceptionally, leading to a new role in 2012 as a fraud risk assessor and customer service to shareholders. Jamilah was now on the radar of the bank's bigwigs, including the CEO, Mike Brown, with whom she was in direct contact via calls to her mobile phone and WhatsApp messaging.

But as if dealing with equally desperate homeowners wasn’t bad enough, At Nedbank Crown Mines branch, she was assigned a new team leader who had been recruited from ABSA. When she learned that the new team leader was contacting her former colleagues at ABSA for some risk processing manuals, Jamilah informed her that it wasn’t Nedbank’s way; “I told her that it was not acceptable to approach our competitors in the industry to share their processes. But in response, she dismissed me stating that while at ABSA she had been the author of the tool, arguing that it’s her material and she could use it. And from that day, my team leader was out for my blood.”

By February 2015, Jamilah had a full-blown depression. Nedbank sent her to its employee wellness service provider ICAS who recommended Akeso Clinic for a three-week course of in-patient treatment for severe depressive disorder. Akeso issued a medical certificate stating that Jamilah was ‘fit to resume normal duties as of 4 May 2015’. At the same time, Nedbank seemed determined to let her go.

Upon returning to work after she once again buried herself to her work and in July 2015, she was nominated for her outstanding performance. But all these were to change a year later. It seems the bank had been studying notes from the professionals who had attended to her at the clinic. Buried within the notes was the apportionment of blame to Nedbank’s Crown Mines branch.

This high-flyer had become a tumour that had to be cut off. Out of nowhere and without any written warnings as required by Labour Relations Act, Jamilah was called in to face disciplinary proceedings on the grounds of incapacity, based on a paragraph from the report of the psychologist who treated her. Akeso's Dr V Chiman wrote: “It is the opinion of her treatment team, that she had experienced the conditions in her specific work section at Nedbank, Crown Mines, as being so acrimonious, that it is considered to be the most prominent stressor which led to her condition…”

Almost a year after Jamila's treatment, Henna Opperman, a private social worker who appears to have been acting for the bank, gave her opinion: “Jamilah’s condition was considered to be of such a nature that she could be deemed unemployable.” In other words, fire her.

Instead of remedying the said 'acrimonious condition' at the Crown Mines branch, the bank sought to terminate her employment on the grounds of incapacity. Jamilah's disciplinary hearing process began nearly a year after she returned to work from medical leave. But Nedbank's HR department rescheduled the hearing for 18 April, 2016 after realising that the ‘incapacity’ charge was premature.

Nomination for outstanding performance

Jamilah did not know why the bank wanted to punish her for being ill. She contacted her Union representative, who told her the charge was unfounded, illegal and unconstitutional. The hearing was thereafter reportedly got postponed again after the union representative reportedly spoke to the bank’s HR department.

But on the morning of 6 June 2016, while visiting her sick mother in the hospital, her union representative called to say that the postponed hearing was going to happen that day and she needed to attend. Jamilah sent apologies, which the HR official representing the bank at the disciplinary hearing argued as “…her inability to regulate her behaviour, for example, attending meetings on time like this one. We feel we have no choice but to proceed with this matter...We have arranged for all witnesses will be some time before we can do that again and absent appropriate justification, you know, for example, if her mother had passed away, then perhaps we would entertain that… but we hear her mother is ill, we don't know how ill she is, we have heard that she has been ill for some time…"

The union representative did not object to the hearing proceeding without Jamilah being present, and she was ultimately found guilty of incapacity. Losing confidence in the Union, Jamilah found Genevieve Cassandra Brandt, an attorney recommended by a colleague.

At their first meeting, Attorney Brandt confided she also suffered from depression and would do her best to be Jamilah's champion. But she didn't disclose a glaring conflict of interest. Brandt is the niece to the wife of the CEO of Nedbank. While Brandt is entitled to represent anyone, it becomes problematic when she drafted and signed a settlement agreement that protected Nedbank more than her client, Jamilah.

The agreement stated that the bank would pay Jamilah's legal costs up to a maximum of R120 000. But Brandt, who planned to challenge the summary dismissal in the Labour Court, persuaded her to leave the settlement money in the attorney’s trust account. But worse still Nedbank somehow managed to renegotiate the signed settlement reducing the payable amount by R116,662.28 and paying just R50,000.00 for legal cost. Jamilah rejected these amendments and for that the equally depressed attorney convinnced her to let her take the matter to the labour court.

Learning of your termination via WhatsApp from a colleague is just plain cruel


The Nedbank had made two additional allegations against her to justify the dismissal: That she had started a rumour about another employee's miscarriage; and that she had placed two bond accounts, her family home and that of her fiance, into moratorium agreements with Nedbank. Nedbank claimed that Jamilah had used her position at the bank to manipulate the approval of the moratorium agreements. This was despite the fact that the managers who advised her on the request were much more senior to her. The bank's ethics office was tasked with investigating these additional allegations.

 Although the ethics office dismissed the allegation of rumour-mongering, Jamilah's dismissal stood. The ethics office did not address the alleged misuse of moratorium agreements.

Shortly after dismissing her, Nedbank foreclosed on both of Jamila's bond accounts, that of her mother's house, for which she had taken responsibility in 1999, and that of her fiancé. Regarding her fiancé's bond account, even though the bank had received payments from Jamilah’s personal account since granting the moratorium, it argued that she had entered into the agreement without providing Nedbank with a signed power of attorney authorising her to act on her fiancé's behalf.

Jamila found out about her dismissal through a WhatsApp message from a colleague wishing her well. Someone at HR ignored the recommendation of the disciplinary hearing committee to communicate the decision directly to Jamilah.

Brown's initiated WhatsApp message to an employee his bank had previously fired.

When Nedbank somehow learned that uSpiked was on the case, sometime in February 2023, the CEO Mike Brown sent Jamilah a WhatsApp text; “Please can you email me on **** and I can ensure this is looked at by the right people, Mike” But a few days after she sent the email as requested by the CEO, Jamilah received an email from one of the bank’s external attorneys warning her not to contact their client, disregarding the fact that it was their client that had initiated communication with her via WhatsApp. “The attorneys had asked me not to contact their client, they said I was vexatious and troublesome and said they were going to bring an application to bar me.”

We put two questions to Mike Brown, the CEO of Nedbank:

When did you learn that Jamilah's attorney, Genevieve Cassandra Brandt, was related to your wife, Sandra? Did your bank consider this glaring conflict of interest a problem?

Brown did not respond. And neither did the bank's spokesperson respond when we asked whether Brown had informed his board of the conflict and, if so, how the board had reacted to the disclosure. We hope to get some clarity from Nedbank before our upcoming article on the repossession of Jamila's family home.

It’s not that Nedbank could not afford to stand by their high-flying employee in her most difficult time. The Group had the funds; According to the bank’s published consolidated financial report for 2016,  its’ Profit before tax was R14,6 billion (slightly down from the previous year) Profit for the year R10,6 billion (slightly down from the previous year) Income for the year R6,7 million (slightly down from the previous year) Basic earning per share 2121 cents (slightly down from the previous year)

CEO (Mike Brown’s) Remuneration Salary R6,680,000, Benefits R148,000 Retirement fund R953,000 Short-term incentives R14,5 million, Long-term incentives R14,5 million 2016 Total direct remuneration was R36,8 million

Couldn’t the bank have spent just a small amount of the year’s profit to find some lasting help for their star employee? Only Nedbank can answer that question.

In the second part of Jamilah’s sorry tale, we are going to take you through the processes that led to the foreclosures of her family home, an issue that is still going on nearly seven years after she was deemed unemployable by the bank. So at 48, Jamilah's fate of any gainful employment remains sealed, thanks to the only employer she ever knew.

*We have decided to simmply use her first name for her privacy.