The implications of Covid-19 for employers

What is the Coronavirus?

The Covid-19 is a highly transmissible disease that starts off as a common cold. General symptoms of the virus are associated with the respiratory system and they include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath

If left untreated or not treated correctly, infection can lead to Pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and, in worst case scenario, fatality 

What legal obligations does an employer have?

The Occupational Health & Safety Act 85 of 1993 places an employer to maintain a working environment that is safe and healthy

On a healthy working environment, the employer must ensure that the workplace is free from any risk to the health of its employees as it is reasonably practicable 

Within the context of the Covid-19, there is a clear obligation on the employer to manage the risk of contamination in the workplace

Practically, the employer can ensure a healthy working environment by ensuring that the workplace is clean, hygienic, promoting regular handwashing, promoting good respiratory hygiene keeping employees informed on developments related to Covid-19

What steps can an employer take to ensure the workplace is safeguarded?

As an initial step, the employer should conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to determine the likelihood of contamination

This assessment should include a contingency and business continuity plan should there be an outbreak of the illness

Employers should consider the following proactive steps, given the scale of the illness globally:

  • Follow health advice and information – Department of Health & The National Institute of Communicable Diseases
  • Communication with employees – provide consistent updates on the Covid-19
  • Prevent the spread of infection – ensure that there are adequate facilities for employees to wash and/or sanitize their hands regularly within the work place
  • Identify vulnerable employees
  • Update emergency contact information

What if an employee contracts Covid-19?

The employer should apply sick leave to such an employee and the employee must obtain a Medical Certificate and any time out of the office will be considered as sick leave

Owing to the nature of the illness, an employee with Covid-19 should not be permitted to return to work until he/she is cleared to do so by a medical practitioner

To manage the risk of contamination effectively, employees should consider appointing an internal committee of professionals

The committee will be responsible for issues such as monitoring the spread, assessing the risk of contamination and taking measures to ensure that the workplace is healthy and safe

It should include representatives from the health and safety, human resources and risk and compliance departments of the employer

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