The third flurry of the Covid-19 pandemic is causing more and more people to become ill at the time. This also means that it is not only hospitals that are currently overcrowded, but also that there are significantly more people currently trying to face the virus at home. It also has consequences for South African businesses experiencing job attendance problems because employees are not at work for a number of reasons. These reasons for absenteeism, of course, include people who have tested positive for Covid-19, but also those who only show symptoms or have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive.
Labour and Employment Minister Thulas Nxesi published a directive in the Government Gazette in June 2021 that deals with the following aspects and concerns of employers and employees:
What happens in the case where an employee is ill? (Show Covid-19 symptoms or have tested positive for Covid-19.)
An employee has Covid-19 symptoms at work or at home:
In terms of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the employee must be placed on paid sick leave. A doctor’s letter is required. The employee must be quarantined for 10 days. If the employee’s sick leave is exhausted, the employee for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) should be able to claim the sick benefit in terms of part C of the Unemployment Insurance Act because the period is longer than seven days. The UIF TERS benefit has expired.
The employee was diagnosed with Covid-19:
In terms of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the employee must be placed on paid sick leave. A doctor’s letter is also required. The employee must be quarantined for 10 days. If the employee’s sick leave is exhausted, the employee should be able to claim for the UIF sickness benefit in terms of part C of UIF act because the period is longer than seven days. The UIF’s TERS benefit has expired.
Please note: If Covid-19 is sustained in the course and execution of work, it can be regarded as an occupational disease. If so, the provisions of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (No. 130 of 1993) [COIDA] will apply and the sick leave as stipulated in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act will not apply. Please note, however, that COIDA contains specific directives on the reporting of an occupational illness and that the employee has the duty to inform his or her employer in writing that he or she has suffered an occupational illness, namely Covid-19, in the workplace and requests the employer in writing to report it as such. Periods of isolation after exposure in the workplace (See point 2 below) are not included because it is preventive action, while COIDA compensates for the effects of something that has already happened, thus only for diagnosed diseases. It is also specified in the Notice on Covid-19 published in the Government Gazette.
The employee was in contact with someone who is Covid-19 positive but has no symptoms:
The employee was in contact outside the workplace with someone who is Covid-19 positive and was advised to quarantine for 10 days: Ordinary annual leave is taken. If the employee no longer has annual leave left, it is unpaid leave.
The employee was in contact with someone who is Covid-19 positive at the workplace:
In this case, the employer must first do a risk analysis. It is distinguished between low-risk exposure and high-risk exposure. Unfortunately, the directive does not contain a definition of low-risk exposure and high-risk exposure. (According to the Guidelines for symptom monitoring and management of essential workers for COVID-19 related infection, low-risk exposure means that you have been in contact beyond 1 meter and for less than 15 minutes with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 and is still PPE. High-risk exposure means, according to the guidelines, that you were in contact for more than 15 minutes within 1 meter with a person who was Covid-19 positive and you did not carry any PPE.)
- If there was a low-risk exposure, the employee can still work with a face mask and his or her symptoms should be monitored for 10 days.
- If there was high-risk exposure, the employee must go on paid sick leave in terms of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
The employee must be quarantined for 10 days. (Health workers must be quarantined for seven days, or by agreement for five days). If the employee’s sick leave is exhausted, the employee should be able to claim for the UIF sickness benefit in terms of part C of the Unemployment Insurance Act because it is for a period longer than seven days. The UIF’s TERS benefit has expired.
When can and may the employee return to the workplace?
The employee was ill (Covid-19 symptoms or he or she tested positive for Covid-19):
No viral testing is necessary if the employee has completed the mandatory 10-day isolation after the onset of symptoms – in other words, employees do not have to test for Covid-19 again before returning to the workplace. In mild cases (no hospitalization was needed)In more serious cases (supplemental oxygen or hospitalization was necessary), the employee may return from the date of clinical stability, or earlier if a medical evaluation found the employee was healthy and ready to start working again. The employee must work with a mask for 21 days. (Wearing masks is generally mandatory anyway.)
The employee was in contact with people who are positive for Covid-19, but has no symptoms:
If the employee remains asymptomatic, no further tests are necessary.
Vaccination and sick leave
Employees are entitled to paid downtime to be vaccinated during working hours. However, employees must provide proof of vaccination.
Side effects after vaccination If an employee experiences side effects after vaccination, sick leave must be granted to the employee in terms of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. For purposes of this leave, an employer can accept a Covid-19 vaccination certificate issued by an official vaccination facility instead of a doctor’s letter. If the employee no longer has sick leave, the employee is entitled to paid downtime