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While 2020 will go down in history for a virus that knew no geographic boundaries, it also could be remembered as the year of what got canceled. What never took place.

What did not happen, to keep the crisis from becoming a worst-case catastrophe.

While the effects of COVID-19 on the global economy have been dire, there is a growing awareness that companies need to be prepared to deal with epidemics in their own backyards. The legal implications have been wide-ranging and complex as South African labour laws have been ill equipped to deal with pandemics.

As the crisis was impossible to predict with conventional wisdom and forecasting tools it left us with “No Playbook for this”.

In some instances, the rules for leave and sick leave have had to change as businesses in various sectors subject to lockdown regulations have re-opened or are still to reopen. Companies may now find themselves in a different dilemma – how to respond to employees affected by COVID Besides being absent from work due to contracting COVID-19, the reasons for absence could be several things:

  1. The employee has symptoms.

  2. Or has been in close contact with another person who has tested positive.

  3. Or falls within the definition of vulnerable.

As the health and safety regulations and guidelines have been rather vague regarding sick leave and there have also been several changes since the start of the pandemic.

Depending on the situation an employee may be entitled to paid sick leave, annual leave, unpaid leave, UIF illness benefits or Compensation Fund benefits.

While employers should try to be consistent in their approach, there are many variables that could affect the way a particular situation is dealt with. A couple that spring to mind:

  1. Do you have to claim sick leave if you have symptoms of Covid-19 and must stay at home?

  2. What happens if you contracted Covid-19 at work?

  3. What can your employer do about your unused leave?

  4. What can be done about employees who refuse to come to work?

  5. How does an employer manage potential abuse of sick leave over the holiday seasons?

Companies confronted with these unique leave scenarios should consider the following takeaways:

  • Update company policies to address requests for COVID-related leave.

  • Stay up to date on the still evolving regulations and make updates to policies when necessary.

  • Consider whether an employee is entitled to any form of protected leave or other reasonable accommodation.

  • Ensure personnel are trained to handle leave requests, including documentation, and providing any required notice.

  • Maintain open communication with employees to help ensure the appropriate course of action.

  • Consider any privacy and confidentiality implications associated with an employee’s reason for leave.

  • Implement safety and health measures in the workplace, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and in turn the need for any additional leave once an employee can return.

Article By:

Tiffany Reed: HR & EE Consultant - Compliance Hub

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