We highlight 3 questions each employer potentially has about the Coronavirus. With the number of people infected with COVID-19 growing rapidly as the days pass by, it is important for employers to know what their duty is towards their employees. COVID-19 is having a substantial impact on society, the economy and the workplace. Therefore, it is the duty of the employer to ensure that certain protocols are put in place to ensure that the working environment of both the employer and the employee is safe.
WHAT CAN AN EMPLOYER DO?
1. PROVIDE A SAFE WORKING ENVIRONMENT
The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, stipulates that the employer should ensure that there is a safe working environment for all its employees, free of hazardous substances and to provide protective measures to ensure that the workplace environment remains safe.
However, this does not take away the duty on the employee to ensure that the protocols instituted by the employer are followed. This means, that the employee must ensure that they adhere to the protocols put in place to ensure that any hazardous substances, in this regard COVID-19 does not get spread among the employees.
This, in essence, means that there is a reciprocal duty on both the employer and the employee to ensure that the working environment remains safe.
The employer, however, should as soon as possible provide the employees with the necessary knowledge and skills on how to ensure that COVID-19 does not get spread between the employees. The employer can, therefore, provide training and/or a seminar to the employees to assist with their knowledge of COVID-19.
The employer should further try to avoid the spreading of COVID-19, the simplest way to do this is to minimize contact with clients and to ensure that at least 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer is available to each employee.
2. CONSIDER WORKING FROM HOME
Due to modern technology, it is becoming easier for employers to rather send their employees to work from home. This, in turn, assists in the prevention of COVID-19 spreading.
If the employer can send the employees to work from home providing they having the necessary resources, the employer should strongly consider this. The benefits of this is:
- The chances of COVID-19 spreading is minimized
- The company can continue working, meaning that the company remains financially stable, which will, in turn, ensure that no future retrenchments might be necessary.
WHAT IF THE EMPLOYEES CONTRACT COVID-19?
If the employer reasonably suspects that an employee may have COVID-19, it is the duty of the employer to send the employee home, away from other employees and advise the employee to rather seek professional help.
If the employer is aware that the employee has recently traveled, the employer should insist that the employee gets tested for COVID-19 and rather place the employee under quarantine (meaning not having the employee come to work) until it is confirmed that the employee is indeed not infected with the virus.
WHAT ABOUT LEAVE?
The standard rule in terms of the Basic Condition of Employment Act is that in a 3-year cycle an employee is titled to 30 days sick leave. This means, that if the employee uses all of their sick leave within the first year, they will have to take unpaid leave.
The status quo in this regard remains the same. COVID-19 is not the first virus to cause employees to use all of their sick leave at once, TB in this regard is a good example. This means that, if an employee contracts COVID-19, the employer should let the employee first use up all of their sick leave, and after that, the employee will have to take unpaid sick leave.