Employers, Brace Yourself or Your Business can be Locked Down Permanantly

I am writing this shortly after the President’s announcement this evening that we will move to Alert Level 3 from 1 June 2020 and we will see the return of 8 million people to the workplace. It opens the economy and allows business owners to trade and profit.

There is a new normal upon us

When President Ramaphosa declared a National State of Disaster in March 2020, he said that South Africans’ lives have “fundamentally changed”. I realised then that we were in for BIG changes, that we would never go back to the way things were. There is a new normal upon us.
We are in uncharted waters, and plenty of uncertainty awaits us. One thing is certain that the quicker we embrace the “New Normal”, act upon and adapt, the better our chances of surviving and thriving in this new era. With this opening up of the economy, comes the increased risk of spreading COVID-19 and even with best intentions, it can cost you your business, unless you do what is necessary.

The last thing you want to deal with is the passing of an employee who got infected.

Being an employer is like being a parent. You bear the responsibility, not only to provide for your employees but also to ensure their safety and the safety of suppliers, contractors, and customers.
The Government issued regulations and directives regarding COVID-19 measures which employers must implement in the workplace. The aim is to ensure that all people are safe and protected from being infected and to prevent the loss of lives. Secondly, it also gives clear instructions as to what you as an employer must do to help the fight against COVID-19.

Best advice is that you always involve your Labour Law or Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner.

For reference, copy and paste this link
to read the Disaster Management Act: COVID-19 occupational health and safety measures in workplaces.
The 17-page document can be overwhelming, considering that as a business owner, you are probably dealing with cash flow constraints, change in business strategy, and many other pressing matters. Your business needs all your attention to lead with confidence. Best advice is that you always involve your Labour Law or Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner. It is imperative to ensure compliance and prevent your business from being closed, but also to proactively manage new challenges in the workplace.

Your business needs all your attention to lead with confidence

We are in uncharted territory and need to brace ourselves for stormy weather and rough seas. Innovation in the spur of the moment will be our armour gear to safeguard our businesses and provision for our employees.

Some of the challenges I already had to deal with are –

Q: Can we force an employee to stay at home if we know they are a high risk, meaning over the age of 60 or have serious health concerns?
A: The regulations and directives are clear that if any employee displays symptoms of COVID-19 or is ill, he/she must stay at home and take sick leave. It is also the responsibility of the Employer to refer them to a testing centre and ensure that they get tested.
Employees who are over 60 years of age or who suffer from chronic health issues must be encouraged to work from home. In the interest of business continuity, explore all possible alternatives to assist the Employee in being productive. If the Employee forms an essential part and must be present in the workplace, it will be good practice to get written consent from a qualified medical professional. The consent letter needs to clear the Employee and confirm the capacity such Employee will be allowed to work. The last thing you want to deal with is the passing of an employee who got infected.

Q: Should an Employee claim they are fine and refuses to stay at home, may an Employer request that an Employee confirms their fitness to work in writing?
A: Employers are not medical professionals and cannot have an opinion about an employee’s health or medical condition. Only if they have been tested and treated and with written consent from a qualified medical practitioner may they be allowed back to the workplace.

Q: If an Employee claim they are on chronic medication with no proof and refuses to come to work, may an Employer follow the disciplinary process?
A: It is not advisable, especially in these times. The Employee must visit a qualified medical practitioner who will confirm whether they are fit for work or not. If they are unfit, they would need to take sick leave, paid leave, and if that has been exhausted, they can claim TERS.

Q: The Employer has taken all necessary steps to protect employees as per the National Health and Safety regulations gazetted by the Government. Some employees insist on not returning to work to self-isolate even if it is safe to return to work. What options does the Employer have?
A: Employees who are at higher risk for contracting the virus, do have the option to self-isolate for the lock down period. If they wish to do so, the Employer may put them on unpaid leave or take disciplinary action.
We are in uncharted territory and need to brace ourselves for stormy weather and rough seas.
Denial of the circumstances is not going to remove uncertainties, fears and anxieties faced by Employees and the impact on productivity in the workplace. The Employer’s key to success will be to innovate new working conditions and ensure that employees, irrespective of age or health condition, can return to work without violating the COVID-19 guidelines.
Steer clear of pitfalls in your desire to provide for your staff and their families while at the same time trying to restore your business to its previous production levels. You might risk to failing in both.
The storm is going to get worse before it calms down. COVID-19, its friends and family are going to be around for a while, and we all must change the way we do things. As a united front, where everyone does their part to keep each other safe and believe that things will turn for the better, will wither the COVID-19 storm and its consequences.

Avoid the hassles of being closed for business and ensure that your business is compliant with the help of your Labour Law and Occupational Health and Safety Experts.

Lodewyk Pienaar
LABCO Employers Organisation
WhatsApp +27 (0)82 573 5308

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