These are your sick leave rights during the coronavirus outbreak

What the law says about sick leave. (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/GALLO IMAGES).
What the law says about sick leave. (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/GALLO IMAGES).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Covid-19, popularly known as the coronavirus, a pandemic. Around the world, more cases are confirmed each day and in South Africa, the toll has risen to 16 (at the time of publishing).

In South Africa, some people are working from home while others are away from work entirely.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy to skip work. In South Africa, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) is in force. This Act focuses on fair labour practices.

Many employees appear to not know their rights and limitations pertaining to sick leave. The Act prescribes that it is a right due to employees for use only when they are ill.

READ MORE | Coronavirus in SA: 4 more cases with first case of local transmission confirmed

Now that the coronavirus has many people panicking, what does it mean for the employer?

"As with any illness and the spread of such viruses, the employer should be aware and provide their staff with opportunities to prevent infection," says Laura Potgieter, a recruitment and marketing specialist at HR Company Solutions.

If you don't have the luxury of working from home and need to be in the office when you're sick or fear infection, she says, we should all just be mindful of washing hands, keeping our immune systems up and eating healthily to keep our energy levels up too.

READ MORE | Coronavirus testing in SA: How it works, where to go, and what it costs

"Management needs to ensure that staff have access to hand sanitisers, water and soap, their own pen (so they don't share pens and spread germs) and just generally implement and enforce their health and safety programmes. In high-risk environments too – ensure that your health and safety programmes are up to date and everyone is aware and following them," she advises.

Potgieter points out that if you fall sick when you've exhausted your sick leave, the sick leave becomes unpaid leave in accordance with the BCEA.

The BCEA states that an employer is not required to pay an employee, in terms of Section 22 if the employee has been absent from work for more than two consecutive days or on more than two occasions during an eight-week period and, at the employer's request, does not produce a medical certificate stating that the employee was unable to work for the duration of the employee's absence on account of sickness or injury.

"When it comes to meetings, conferences and expos, try and limit your exposure to anyone who may be ill as much as possible," she advises.

Here are some recommended strategies for employers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use now:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Emphasise staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning.
  • Advise employees before travelling to take certain steps.
  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with Covid-19 should notify their supervisors.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have Covid-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality.

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