Cleaning companies embroiled in ‘dirty’ legal battle

Published Jun 21, 2024


A restraint of trade legal dispute between cleaning companies got dirty in the Johannesburg Labour Court.

Judge Reynaud Daniels turned down the application in favour of the applicant, which, he said, was flawed on ‘hearsay evidence’.

The dispute is between Pretoria-based small business Duster Dollies Central, who took one of their former employees to court for starting a rival company and Korbika Cleaning.

Duster Dollies told the court that Erika Behr signed a restraint of trade agreement with them, in terms of which she may not work for a rival company or take their clients, for a period of two years.

She, however, left the employment of Duster Dollies and with another business partner, who has not been named, started a company called Korbika Cleaning.

Duster Dollies asked the court for an urgent interdict restraining Behr from acting in breach of the restraint of trade agreement.

The applicant - Duster Dollies - groups its cleaners into different teams, and each team is supervised by their own team manager. The team managers are given a route map, which includes a list of clients, their contact information, and the routes that the team must follow.

The applicant states that the route maps are one of the reasons why it decided to rely on the restraint to protect its interests.

Behr was employed by the applicant as a team manager. Her team, which consisted of four cleaners, was responsible for 18 clients whose details would have appeared on her route maps.

The court was told that Duster Dollies concluded agreements with its clients in terms of which the client would undertake not to employ its staff during the contract period, or for a period of twelve months.

During February 2024, Behr resigned from the employ of the applicant, and just over a month Duster Dollies argued that she is the controlling mind behind the new company.

Eight of the applicant’s clients have, to date, abandoned it and become clients of the newly-established Korbika Cleaning company.

In addition, some cleaning staff left the applicant to join the new company. Duster Dollies’ main concern is that its employees who jumped ship, could take route maps with them, which would allow Behr to approach the clients reflected in the route maps.

It said it had over the years built up its client base and that it is entitled to keep commercially sensitive information, such as information about its clients which are secret and confidential.

According to the applicant it was only in the middle of April that it became aware of the existence of the new company and claimed Behr was trying to “steal its clients.”

According to Duster Dollies, Behr is actively soliciting its clients and thereby acting in breach of the restraint, which Behr is denying. She said that she has no route maps belonging to the applicant.

Judge Reynaud Daniels said, in his view, the applicant has not put up any admissible evidence that Behr had breached the restraint of trade or intends to do so.

The applicant relies on a WhatsApp from a client, referred to simply as “Hilda,” that Behr was luring clients, which is hearsay evidence, the judge said.

He pointed out that Behr denied approaching any clients of the applicant. She also denied being in possession of route maps. Despite these denials, the applicant did not apply to refer the factual disputes to oral evidence.

“There is no basis for the court to reject the denials as far-fetched or untenable,” the judge said in turning down the application.

Pretoria News