Not just a regular sick day: COVID-19 in the workplace
We watched from afar how COVID-19 tightened its grip on China and then spread even further at a staggering pace. Now, it’s in South Africa and our lives have changed radically in a matter of days.
Most working South Africans are asking themselves: “Is it safe to go to work?” and many employers are worried about how absent employees are going to affect their bottom lines. Here are a few guidelines to help you navigate the uncertainties during this national state of disaster:
It’s now more important than ever to ensure you are complying with the regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993. This means you should make every effort to keep your employees safe from the risk of contracting COVID-19. You also have a duty as a responsible citizen to do your part during this global health emergency.
- Educate employees on symptoms, causes and preventative measures. For example, place posters around the office or send out an informative email with links to helpful online articles.
- Encourage employees to regularly wash their hands and make hand sanitisers and alcohol-based hand soap readily available.
- Wipe down all surfaces and disinfect work areas regularly throughout the day.
- Limit contact between people as much as possible. Encourage video conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings and implement a no handshake policy.
- Encourage employees that appear to be under the weather to take sick leave. The World Health Organisation recommends that anyone with a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 or more) should stay at home.
- If possible, allow workers to work from home.
- Take special precautions with vulnerable workers for whom COVID-19 poses the biggest threat: older employees, pregnant women and those with existing health conditions such as diabetes.
- It is within your rights to ask employees that have been travelling to high-risk areas to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.
- Your employer is required by law to ensure the workplace complies with health and safety regulations. However, each one of us is equally responsible for our own health and to act sensibly and follow good personal hygiene practises. Stay safe from the risk of infection in and out of the workplace by regularly washing your hands and avoid touching your face. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue (not your hand!) and throw that tissue away. If you are feeling unwell, even if you are only showing mild symptoms, take sick leave or get permission from your employer to work from home. This is how you can help fight the spread of COVID-19.
- If you are in good health, but you are worried about contracting COVID-19 and are therefore opting to stay indoors and distancing yourself from others (social distancing), make an arrangement with your employer to work from home. If you are unable to fulfill your duties from home, you will have to submit annual or unpaid leave. While it’s certainly safer to try and avoid contact with others as much as possible during this time, you have to get permission from your manager to stay away from work. Your employer may take disciplinary action if you simply don’t show up.
- If you are showing flu-like symptoms, the usual rules regarding sick leave apply: You are entitled to two days’ paid sick leave and if you are not better after this time, you will be required to present your employer with a medical certificate.
- If you have been exposed to the virus, i.e. if you’ve travelled to a high-risk area or have been in contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, you should self-isolate. Since you are not sick in this instance, it isn’t classified as sick leave. Depending on your employer, you could take annual leave, or the employer may classify it as special leave for which UIF compensation may be claimed.
- If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and have to go into quarantine, your regular sick leave benefits apply. If you don’t have any sick leave left, you will have to apply for UIF compensation.