26 May

The Coronavirus and subsequent government reactions including lockdowns, and other regulations to prevent the spread of the virus have placed both employees and employers in uncertain and unsure territory regarding their rights in the workplace.

UASA has put together responses to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding returning to work and the rights of workers during these times.

Can you be dismissed if you test positive for the Coronavirus?

Short answer: No

Long answer: The employer must investigate the extent of the illness and if the employee is temporarily unable to work. If the illness results in a prolonged absence from work, alternatives to a dismissal must first be considered. 

Factors that must be taken into account and consideration include:

  • The seriousness of the illness
  • The period of absence
  • The nature of the employee’s job and whether a temporary replacement may be secured.

During this process, the ill employee should be allowed to make recommendations as well. Only once all these processes have been followed and no alternative to dismissal found, may an employer consider dismissal. 

Can you refuse to go to work?

Short answer: No 

Long answer: Employees remain obligated to go to work unless instructed otherwise by their employers. Employees who refuse to go to work must have a valid reason for their absence. The mere presence of the Coronavirus in South Africa does not constitute a valid reason to stay away from work. 

Do you have the right to work from home?

Short answer: No

Long answer: Employees do not have a right to work from home. Working from home may be considered by employers but should not be implemented by employees without the employer’s consent.

Employees are encouraged to rather speak to their employers about their concerns.

Can your employer restrict your personal or business travel plans?

Short answer: Business travelling, yes. Personal travel plans, no.

Long answer: Business travel may be changed or prohibited. However, an employer does not have the right to dictate whether an employee may travel during his/her annual leave or weekends.

The employer may, however, require you to disclose any travel information in case a need arises to do contact tracing.

What is my employer obliged to do?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (“OHSA”) requires an employer to bring about and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of its employees. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Ensuring that employees wear their face masks when in the workplace
  • Social distancing can and is being adhered to
  • Providing sanitizers
  • Nominating a Coronavirus Officer that will be responsible for all matters relating to the virus in the workplace
  • Screening of employees for coronavirus symptoms before they start work.

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