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Two new categories of ‘paid time off’ or 'sick leave' came into being as of 11 June 2021. Both of these relate to Covid-19 vaccination.

An updated ‘Consolidated Direction on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces’ was gazetted on 11 June 2021 (‘the Direction’). It contains a raft of new requirements for risk assessment, plans and measures surrounding mandatory vaccination, which are not discussed here.

The Direction also requires employers to give employees paid time off –

(a) to be vaccinated against Covid-19; and

(b) to recover from the side effects of being vaccinated.

Paid time off to be vaccinated

An employer must give its employees paid time off to be vaccinated. The employee may be required to provide proof of an appointment to be vaccinated.

In our view this obligation is relatively uncontroversial. Time off should not be regarded as sick leave, though, as the employee who goes for vaccination is not too ill to work. It should be regarded as a form of ‘special leave’. From a practical point of view the employee will be given time off, but be paid as if he/she has worked a full day.

Paid time off due to side effects

If an employee suffers side effects as a result of the vaccination, the Direction states that ‘the employer must in accordance with section 22 of the BCEA place its employee on sick leave.’

The guidelines in Annexure C of the Direction (which only apply if vaccination is mandatory) add that:

  • once the sick leave has been exhausted, employees should be given further paid time off if they’re still ill; or
  • a claim may be lodged for compensation in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act of 1993 (COIDA).

Regarding ‘sick leave’ the guidelines (which, again, only apply where vaccination is mandatory) state that an employer ‘may accept a Covid-19 vaccination certificate issued by an official vaccination site in lieu of a medical certificate’.

Direction unclear

The Direction and attached guidelines are somewhat confusing and give rise to several questions, including:

  • Do different sick leave requirements apply if the employer makes vaccination mandatory vs when it is voluntary?
  • What is meant by ‘further paid time off’ once sick leave has been exhausted ? (Is this a type of special leave that can continue indefinitely?)
  • How can a vaccination certificate possibly be proof of the existence of a good reason for absence due to the side effects of vaccination? (We would argue that a vaccination certificate can merely be proof that the employee was absent in order to be vaccinated.)
  • On what basis can an illness due to the side effects of vaccination be considered an occupational disease in terms of COIDA?

Suggested approach

Until such time as the Direction is amended to provide more clarity, we suggest that employers adopt the following approach:

  1. Employees must be paid for their absence to be vaccinated. It should be regarded as ‘special leave’, not sick leave.
  2. A vaccination certificate issued by an official vaccination site should be accepted as a good reason for absence in order to be vaccinated.
  3. In cases of absence due to side effects in the case of voluntary vaccination, employees should be entitled to paid sick leave.
  4. The same proof of incapacity may be required as in all other cases of absence due to illness.
  5. In a situation where the employer has made vaccination mandatory and an employee is absent due side effects, it may be regarded as an occupational disease in which case -

(a) the first three days of absence should be regarded as sick leave;

(b) if the employee is absent for more than 3 days, a claim for compensation may be lodged in terms of the COIDA.

(The approach suggested in paragraphs 5(a) and (b) is based on the fact that, in terms of COIDA, there is no right to compensation for a temporary disablement that lasts for three days or less.)

For more information on Covid-related absenteeism, see our article at

Jan Truter for


  1. Clarity on the following –

    I went for the vaccine ( got both my jabs ); however I had to take annual leave – was told I cannot take sick leave for this.
    In other words they are telling me when I can be sick, and when I can’t be sick

    Any advice will be appreciated


    1. Author

      Taking time off to take the vaccine does not qualify for sick leave. You are entitled to reasonable time on full pay, though. This does not necessarily mean a full day off.

  2. Thank you so much for this article. With my first vaccine i had side effects and was off for 2 days special leave. With the 2nd vaccine now my line manager told me its not special leave, but not according to the information i have read from the organization itself. Your article will support me in clarifying with my line manager.

  3. Good day

    I just requested a day off but I am told I must put in annual leave. So I told them about special leave or paid leave , they insist I put annual and there is no such thing as special leave.

    1. Author

      On the vaccination date you are entitled to paid time off (only the time it would reasonably take to be vaccinated, not necessarily the whole day). It would not come of sick or annual leave.

  4. Hi Jan
    Referal to COID, first three days, I believe, is normal pay not sick leave. Payment is at 75% of normal rate for period off

    1. Author

      It depends for how long the employee takes off – see section 22(2) of COIDA

  5. Good day
    I contracted COVID symptoms outside the work place, the doctor booked me off 10 days isolation with a medical certificate saying ‘I’m being treated as a positive case’ the company don’t want to pay sick leave, they say I Must first go for test, I’ll appreciate clarity on this issue and how do I get them to pay me if it’s due to me…

    1. Author

      If you can tested positive you should be entitled to sick leave

    1. Thank you soooooo much Mr. Truter, for the invaluable, highly informative and excellent article. Worth reading.

      I am very proud and really blessed to be a Labouwise, Wise Information Recipient.

  6. Good morning,
    There is going to be a bone of contention, the vaccine is a voluntary act and not a compulsory act. Employers cannot force employees to vaccinate themselves since this will be a direct violation of their constitutional rights. Should an employer insist or make it company policy for an employee taking the vaccine, does the employer then compensate employee for time off in the event of side effects, also should the employee succumb to the vaccine, does the employee or COIDA compensate the family.

  7. Good Morning Team

    I would kindly like to know about having tested positive and sick leave there can i claim by compensation fund and which form must my Medical company give me to fill in.

    Kind regards Natasha

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