INFO

COVID-19

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Challenges and Questions with the Coronavirus after the President’s “National State of Emergency” declaration on 15 March 2020.

 

Questions and Answers – Covid-19

1.    Terminology

1.1.    Social distancing                                                       A person exercises social distancing which is limited interaction with crowds and                                                                                                          unknown people to reduce the risk of transmission.

1.2.    Isolation                                                                    A person is in isolation when tested positive for the virus.

1.3.    Quarantine                                                                A person is in quarantine when they have been in contact with someone who tested                                                                                                      positive for the virus and when they awaiting to see if they develop symptoms.


2.    What measures/guidelines should the employer follow if employees need to work from home?

2.1.    General 

  • It must be communicated to employees that this social distancing period is in the light of the international crisis and therefore only a temporary remote work arrangement. 

  • The arrangement will be evaluated on a week to week basis and communicated to employees.  

  • Employees should therefore be exercising social distancing for the sake of individual and public safety and must stay at/work from home.

  • Employees should be available during core working hours and should respond to all communication within a reasonable time (30 minutes). 

  • The Company should draft and communicate a Company policy that provides guidelines and information on the following:

o    Outputs measurable = work from home
o    Cannot work from home = no work/no pay/no discipline approach
o    Measures in place to keep staff coming in to work safe as far as possible
o    Skeleton staff where possible
o    Monitored and evaluated weekly

2.2.    What should the employer do with additional costs (i.e. data, telephone calls, printing etc.)?

  • It is the responsibility of the employee to ensure that they have sufficient resources to continue work from home. 

  • The employer can either decide to provide employees these resources (within limits) or require of employees to use their personal resources (within limits). 

  • If the employee does not have the resources to work from home, it should be communicated to the employer where solutions could be identified.

2.3.    What should the employer do with insurance when laptops / equipment leaves the office

  •           Ensure Company insurance will cover in the case of damages / theft, if not, make an alternative arrangement or take out                  additional cover. 

2.4.    What should the employer do with additional software required (zoom, team viewer etc.)

  •           Ensure all staff are aware of the official channels of communication the Company will use during this time that employees                will work remotely. 

  •           It is the responsibility of employees to ensure they have access to the official channels and the infrastructure.

2.5.    Can the employer expect employees that cannot work operationally from home, to come to work (i.e. reception, cleaners, admin staff etc.)?

  • Each case will be handled by merit and will depend on the discretion of management and the operational requirements.

  • Not all employees will be able to work remotely. 

  • In the case were certain employees are unable to work remotely due to the nature of their work and they are required to come to the office, and the employee chooses to not go into the office it will be regarded as no work, no pay, no discipline. The employee should notify the employer of their choice and the Company’s position must be confirmed to the employee in writing

  • If the employer closes the business, then the employees mentioned above must be remunerated.


3.    What should the employer consider with regards to insurance?

3.1.    Does employer need to have insurance to protect employees if they get the virus in the line of duty?

  •           No communication from Government has been received in this regard and there is uncertainty if the employee can claim                  compensation from the UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) or COIDA (Compensation of Occupational Injuries and                        Diseases Act)

3.2.    Is the Company insured for loss of income?

  •           No formal communication from Government has been received in this regard, Companies are advised to contact their                      Insurer to determine their cover. 

4.    What leave will apply for infected employees?

  •          Should the employee get infected with Covid-19 in their personal capacity, outside of work, normal sick leave applies. 

  •          Should the employee get infected with the virus while on duty, this is also regarded as sick leave and a claim for Injury on                 Duty will not apply – refer to 3.1 above. 


5.    What does the employer do with employees that do not want to come to work because they are afraid to be in contact with other people or scared to travel or there is no transport available?

  •       The no work, no pay, no discipline principle will apply once the reason for absence has been communicated to the employer. 

  •                  If the employee stays away without communication to their employer, the abscondment/disciplinary process will apply and                           might lead to the dismissal of the employee.    

  •                  Ensure your Company Policy covers abscondment. 

6.    Should the employer arrange transport to work?

  •                   If practical and affordable to offer transport to employees, the Company should consider this as an option. 

 


7.    What does the employer do with employees that cannot come to work due to the closing of schools and after-school facilities?   

  •                  Implement a remote work policy if the employee’s position / resources allow it. 

  •                  If the employee is unable to work remotely, the employee can apply for Family Responsibility (3 days per annum) or Annual                       Leave.   

  •                  If the employee does not have any Family Responsibility or Annual leave days available or choose not to use their annual                           leave, then the employee can take unpaid/special leave (no work, no pay, no discipline principle).

  •                  The Company can consider or advise the employees on alternative solutions to parents of children in school. 

8.    Should or must the employer grant special paid leave?

  •                  The employer is under no legal obligation to grant special leave.

  •                  If the employer has the financial resources, they can consider granting paid special leave.  This position is however risky as                       there is no clear indication about how long this situation will last and employees should consider the impact that this will have                     on their business.

9.    What must the employer do to protect employees that have to come to work?

9.1.    Control visitors (registers, declare etc.)

  •                 Register form should be completed by all staff, clients, contractors or visitors of the office.

  •                 The following information should be captured:

o    Full name and surname of visitor;
o    Company;
o    Contact details;
o    Indication if visitor has been in contact (either in personal or business capacity) with anyone who traveled to a high-          risk area;
o    Indication if the visitor has been in contact with anyone that has been infected;
o    Declaration from the visitor that he/she a not infected;
o    Indication if person traveled in the past 14 days to a risk area. 

9.2.    Hygiene notices must be placed in the office that contain the following information: 

  •        How to wash hands thoroughly:

o    Wash your hands up to your elbow with soap;
o    Wash the front and the back of your hands;
o    Wash between fingers;
o    Wash under the nails; 
o    Wash for at least twenty seconds with soap;
o    Dry your hands with paper cloths and not with a towel.

  • Encourage employees to drink water to keep the body hydrated and keep the immune system strong.

  • How the virus spreads i.e. this happens when the droplets of an infected person’s cough get into healthy eyes, nose and mouth.

  • If you see someone coughing/ sneezing/ sick keep at least a 2-meter distance. 

  • Avoid big crowds, because you don’t know who might be sick (people who are infected might not show symptoms but are still infectious).

  • Infected people’s saliva can get onto other things, therefore:

o    Wash your hands up to your elbow regularly and thoroughly.
o    Do NOT touch your face or anyone else’s face;
o    Masks are effective to not infect anyone else, but these masks cannot be worn for longer than a day.

  •                     Do not SHARE - towels, glasses, utensils and food.

  •                     Call the Corona Hotline once you feel sick, develop a cold, cough or experience shortness of breath.

9.3.    Training of employees and contractors

  •                     The Company should ensure all employees receive regular feedback on the virus, the status of the country as well as the                          status of the Company and normal operations. 

  •                     Employees should be trained and equipped to handle the following:

o    Office cleaners should be trained to clean commonly used areas such as doorknobs, light switches, counter tops,              telephones, security gates as well as crockery and cutlery. 
o    Reception staff should be trained to ensure all visitors sign the register form.
o    First Aiders should be equipped and informed on how to handle employees that show signs of flue.

9.4.    Educate employees on the symptoms of the flue

  •                     flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue

  •                     shortness of breath

  •                     fever

9.5.    Provide information sessions (everybody does not have access to information on the internet, social media etc.)

  •                    Use the South African National Department of Health WhatsApp service by sending +27600123456 “hi” to this number and                         an automated response will be sent with “emoticon” instructions to receive specific information.

  •                    Use the Department of Health app Mpilo: Healthcare in your hands for healthcare related updates and questions.

  •                    Call National Corona helpline (NICD) number - 0800 029 999.

9.6.    Considering face masks/covers

  •                    Considering facial masks as a precautionary measure for the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) the World Health                                         Organization advises the public on when and how to use masks:

o    If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19                    infection.
o    Wear a mask if you are coughing, sneezing and have any flu-like symptoms.
o    Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap        and water.
o    If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
o    For any further information follow the link: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-        for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks

10.    Can the employer expect employees to be tested?

10.1.    Fear of victimization 

  • Remember – some employees might not want to be tested as they are afraid that they might be victimized, lose their job or income. 

  • If the employer has reason to believe that an employee is a risk the Company has the right to instruct an employee to go for a medical examination to determine his/her medical fitness to work. 

  • If the employer instructs an employee to undergo a test, the Company will be liable for the cost of the assessment. 

10.2.    How does testing work?

  • When an employee experience any symptoms (as described above), call your General Practioner or the National helpline (NICD) number - 0800 029 999 where you will be referred to a testing center if required. 

10.3.    Who pays for the tests?

  • As of 9 March, Lancet Laboratories announced that it would also be processing Covid-19 tests from private doctors for approximately R1 400 — Your medical aid scheme will determine how much of this cost you will have to cover yourself. Discovery Health Medical Scheme will cover the costs of a test if you are found to be positive. If the result is negative, then you will pay for the diagnostic with medical savings. 

  • If the employee traveled internationally for non-business-related travel to a risk area, they may request doctor's clearance (and body temperature measurements) before allowing the employee back at work. The employee should then pay for the test.

  • If the employee had to travel internationally for crucial business requirements, the Company can opt to place the employee on special leave and pay for the doctor’s visit (for clearance). 

11.    How can operations in the office be affected?

11.1.    How does the employer deal with meetings (inhouse, at clients, clients visiting)?

  •           Try and avoid face to face meetings as far as possible. 

  •           If face to face meetings are unavoidable, the Company should dedicate a specific room / area where meetings will be held and                  ensure a proper cleaning roster is established for support staff to clean and disinfect high touch surfaces like counters, tabletops,              doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, tables etc.

11.2.    What should the employer do regarding biometric finger readers? 

  • Where possible, override the device for the time being and provide alternative measures. 

  • If it is used for monitoring time and attendance, ensure that alternative measures are implemented.  

  • Alternatively provide hand sanitizers, wet wipes, washing soaps at the biometric finger reader. Support staff to clean the device regularly with disinfectants.

12.    What should the employer do in production sites/ warehouses etc.?

  •          The Company can consider offering additional (specialised) protective clothing to ensure that operations continue as normal or                   uninterrupted. 

  •          Educate employees and record keeping of information sessions are essential for compliance.  

  •          Employees must sign an attendance register.

13.    What happens if the Company is seriously affected by this crisis?

13.1.    Can the employer retrench?

  •          This is an option that can be considered as a last resort and should not be misused. 

  •          In the case where the Company have valid reasons/ facts that the current situation has a negative economic impact on the                         business or will have a negative economic impact on the business, the section 189 (in terms of the Labour Relations Act) process             can be initiated due to a loss of income or sales.  

  •          Solutions short of retrenchment can include the implementation of short hours, temporary lay-offs, skeleton staff, re-evaluating                   shifts etc. (Section 189 of the LRA still apply).

13.2.    Can the employer implement shorter working hours and what is the procedure to follow?

  •          Yes, employers can do this. Section 189 of the LRA applies. 

13.3.    Are the reason (Covid-19) valid?

  • Section 16 of the Labour Relations Act indicates that the employer must provide information (proof) regarding genuine operational requirement existed for the Company to restructure. The employer cannot merely claim that for instance the Company is experiencing financial difficulty or has a decline in sales and as such have to retrench employees; the employer will have to produce evidence of such a financial crisis.

14.    How often should the employer revisit current decisions, policies and procedures?

  •           It is important to communicate to employees that the Company’s position will be reviewed at least on a weekly basis. 

 

15.    What legislation is applicable?

  •           The Labour Relations Act (Act 66 of 1995) 

  •           The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (Act 75 of 1997)

  •           The Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993)

  •           The National Disaster Management Act (Act 75 of 2002)

If you have any queries regarding any employee matters in this regard, please contact your CLS Consultant at (012) 460 4008.  

CLS will update the information on our website www.clshr.co.za