Businesses are facing an uphill battle with employee attendance due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Are employees entitled to paid sick leave, annual leave, unpaid leave, UIF illness benefits or Compensation Fund benefits?
The situation can be summarised as follows:
(a) Employee presents with or advises of COVID-19 symptoms: The employer must place the employee on paid sick leave in terms of the BCEA. The employer may require the employee to produce a valid medical certificate before paying the employee. If sick leave is exhausted, the employee may claim UIF illness benefits.
(b) Employee has had a ‘high risk’ exposure to someone with COVID-19 inside the workplace: Where an employer makes an assessment that the employee has had a ‘high risk’ exposure to COVID-19 at work, the employee should provisonally be placed on paid sick leave. The employee does not have to produce a medical certificate. However, if COVID-19 is later confirmed, the absence should not be dealt with as sick leave in terms of the BCEA, but rather as a claim for compensation in terms of COIDA.
(c) Employee has had a ‘low risk’ exposure to someone with COVID-19 inside the workplace: The employee is not entitled to sick leave unless the employer decides that the employee must stay at home.
(d) Employee has had a ‘high risk’ exposure to a COVID-19 positive case outside the workplace: The matter will be treated in a similar way to an employee who has been exposed in a Covid-positive case in the workplace. The employer should self-isolate, but also the employer may insist that the employee provides substantiating evidence before treating it as paid sick leave. Employers have some leeway to introduce their own rules and procedures. For example, the employer may insist that the employee be tested before deciding whether to treat the employee’s absence as sick leave. If the employee refuses to be tested or tests negative, it can be treated as unpaid or annual leave.
(e) Employee has had a ‘low risk’ exposure to a COVID-19 positive case outside the workplace: The employee is not entitled to sick leave unless the employer decides that the employee must stay at home.
(f) Vulnerable employees: The absence of an employee from work merely due the employee being vulnerable, may be treated as annual leave or unpaid leave. In exceptional circumstances the employer may treat it as paid sick leave, but it remains in the employer’s discretion. If a treating doctor /occupational medical practitioner is willing to motivate the employee’s absence as ‘temporary incapacity’, the employee may be able to claim UIF ‘illness benefits’.
(g) Quarantine and C19TERS benefits: Employees who are required to remain in isolation or in quarantine after a ‘high risk’ contact are entitled to C19TERS benefits for up to 10 days of isolation. This only applies until the extension of C19TERS comes to an end.
(h) Paid time off related to vaccination: Employees are entitled to paid time off to be vaccinated, as well as ‘sick leave’ due to the side effects of vaccination (See our article at https://www.labourwise.co.za/labour-articles/vaccination-and-sick-leave).
The above summary is based on the current regulations and guidelines as we understand them. For more details on how we arrived at these conclusions, see our more comprehensive article at https://www.labourwise.co.za/labour-articles/covid-19-sick-leave-crisis-looming
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Jan Truter for www.labourwise.co.za