Covid 19 Absenteeism

Since the beginning of lockdown on 27 March 2020, employers have been faced with the problem of dealing with government legislated absence from work which does not fall into the traditional definitions of the leave provisions as per BCEA and the main agreement. Government legislated absence has left employers questioning how to deal with their forced absence and employees asking when they will receive their money.

While TERS went some way to compensating for the national wide enforced shutdown, some industries are still reeling from restrictions to their work and pay and employers are forced to look at other ways to recoup their loss of production.

In addition to the lockdown, the number of covid 19 cases has exponentially sky rocketed, resulting in an increase in sick leave and questions surrounding how to manage the impact of covid-related isolation periods required to curb the spread of the virus. In many cases, sick and annual leave have been exhausted, and employees are crying out for help from their employers. While employers struggle to keep their businesses turning over and making money in a dampened financial environment, there is a distinct lack of fat left to cut.

When an employee has tested positive with the virus, leave can be taken from their sick leave quotas. If an employee has exhausted their sick leave, the absence from work must unfortunately be unpaid. While employers are encouraged to operate with grace when it comes to covid it is also important to keep companies afloat so that employees have jobs to come back to when they are healthy!

Employees who have been exposed to a Covid-19 case, are expected to self-isolate for 5 – 8 days to assess themselves for symptoms and so that they can act quickly if they do become ill. However, unless the employee tests positive for Covid-19, the absence from work does not fall into any specific leave type, other than unpaid. Employees must discuss their exposure situation to their employer and the employer must assess the situation for level of risk resulting from the exposure. Aspects like, how long the employee was with the positive person and if they were both wearing masks, will impact their level of risk.

As the employer, if you instruct your employee to stay away from work, you take ownership of the absence per say. If the employee decides on their own accord, which they are entitled to do, to self-isolate, then the employee takes ownership of the absence and may be unpaid. Again, grace and understanding are vital in these situations however, business must continue as we attempt to sustain our economy and the country.

Employees may also be affected by their loved ones being ill and be called on to assist with taking them to hospitals, clinics or other scenario’s. Where possible, allowing the employee to make use of their family responsibility leave is acceptable.

Employers are encouraged to stick to the labour laws wherever physically possible and not to re-invent any wheels. Fairness in application will help so ensure that your Covid policies and tool kit are current. Provide on-going education to your staff regarding what will happen at work if they become positive.