The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a strange challenge to both employers and employees. It has changed the relationship between colleagues and forced many of us to consider our health in the workplace in ways we may never have before
Gawie Cillié, employment relations expert and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), explains what our rights and responsibilities are while working in the time of COVID-19.
Can you take sick leave if you have had contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19?
The current pandemic is new territory for most of us, and while there are laws and regulations to protect both the employer and employee, not many of us have ever considered their practical application in these unprecedented times.
While you have to stay away from your place of work between contact and receiving your COVID-19 test results, this time isn’t considered sick leave and your employer is not liable to pay you your full salary for the time you are away from work, even though the circumstances are out of your control.
“The current quarantine period (stay at home) is 14 calendar days. This absence does not qualify as paid sick leave and is unpaid. Alternatively, the employer can grant the employee paid “quarantine leave” and recover the monies from the Unemployment Insurance Funds Illness Benefits (subject to certain limitations),” says Gawie.
Although you are required to stay away from work, your absence is not considered sick leave.
Do you get sick leave if you test positive for COVID-19?
Having had contact with someone with COVID-19 might not be grounds for sick leave, but testing positive certainly is. A doctor’s note confirming that you are medically unable to work can help you qualify for paid sick leave.
“The Basic Conditions of Employment Act provides for 30 working days paid sick leave during a 36-month sick leave cycle for employees working 5 days a week and 36 working days sick leave for employees working 6 days a week,” says Gawie.
“The employee must submit a medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner (as proof of incapacity) to qualify for paid sick leave. The above leave provision is not coupled to a specific form of incapacity. From a medical perspective, an employee who has contracted the virus must self-isolate for at least 10 calendar days (or longer if indicated by the medical practitioner),” he explains.
Do people at work need to know if I test positive?
While ordinarily, it would be inappropriate for an employer to disclose the medical condition of an employee, the transmission of COVID-19 makes it vital for people who share a space to know each other’s status in order to protect themselves and those they come into contact with too.
Employers may want to be cautious when communicating news about an employee testing positive for COVID-19 because of the stigma and bullying which can cause tension in the work environment.
“It may be appropriate for an employer to inform employees if a colleague has tested positive for COVID-19 so that steps can be taken to prevent further transmission. The employer may provide information that allows employees to know if they have been in recent close contact with the employee who has tested positive, without identifying the individual involved,” says Gawie.