Covid-19 and stigma: Staff testing positive cannot be sole grounds for dismissal - CCMA

A laboratory technician simulates the pipetting of a nasal pharyngeal swab to extract RNA while demonstrating the Covid-19 test kits.
A laboratory technician simulates the pipetting of a nasal pharyngeal swab to extract RNA while demonstrating the Covid-19 test kits.
Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Testing positive for Covid-19 cannot be the sole ground for dismissal, says CCMA.
  • The dispute resolution body has received 278 referrals on unfair dismissals related to the virus.
  • Fears surrounding Covid-19 have created a stigma.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) says it has received more than 200 referrals dealing with Covid-19-related unfair terminations since March. 

The CCMA said an employee testing positive for Covid-19 could not be the sole ground for dismissal.

"Although each case is unique, the coronavirus, [which] is known to be a temporary illness, and an employee testing positive, cannot be the sole ground for dismissal," its director, Cameron Morajane, told News24.

"Any employee, who is of the view that he or she has been unfairly dismissed, has the right to refer such a dispute to the CCMA for adjudication," Morajane added.

Between 27 March and 10 June, the dispute resolution body received 278 referrals concerning Covid-19-related unfair terminations.

Of the 278 case referrals, 46 came from Durban followed by Ekurhuleni in Gauteng with 39 and Johannesburg with 23.

Remaining Breakdown:

East London, Eastern Cape: 10

Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape : 9

Bloemfontein, Free State: 2

Welkom, Free State: 9

Tshwane, Gauteng: 8

Vaal, Gauteng: 5

Head Office: 6

Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal: 2

Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu- Natal: 7

Richards Bay, Kwa Zulu – Natal (KNRB) : 4

Limpopo: 12

Emalahleni, Mpumalanga: 19

Mbombela, Mpumalanga: 9

Northern Cape: 10

Klerksdorp, North West: 2

Rustenburg, North West: 11

Cape Town, Western Cape: 29

George, Western Cape : 16

New diseases can sometimes be accompanied by cases of anxiety and fear, leading to stigmatisation. This is no different when discussing Covid-19.

Medical professional and activist Dr Sindi van Zyl used her personal social media platform on Twitter this week to open up a discussion on the stigma surrounding Covid-19, where scores of individuals relayed how their disclosure of positive test resulted in them being fired by their employer.

"A stigma is centered around fear. The more fear, the more [the] stigma forms around the disease, it is our duty to understand what a disease is, the transmission of the disease and who is at risk, and that most people will recover," Van Zyl told News24.

"We have done a very great job with HIV as the years have gone by, we need to keep churning out correct information so that people can think about the disease and act around it," she added.

Van Zyl said employees needed to be aware of their rights when disclosing an illness.

"Nobody can force you to say what your condition is. You can state it as a chronic illness and that you need to work from home."

The medical professional and activist, however, in her Twitter thread noted people had an ethical obligation to let their employer know if they tested positive for Covid-19.

"More than ever, you need to know your rights when you test positive for Covid-19, you need to go into isolation - you are protected, getting fired is not legal."

'Stigma has no impact on public health yet'

Meanwhile, the Gauteng Department of Health told News24 it was not aware of any incidents where the stigma surrounding Covid-19 had an impact on public health in the province during this period.

"The stigma effect has not yet been felt in public health in the province, but we would like to appeal to society to not stigmatise people that test positive for Covid-19," its head of communications, Motalatale Modiba, said.

"It must be pointed out that as the situation intensifies in the fight against Covid-19, it is anticipated that more people will get infected. The reality is that we cannot stop the virus since there is no cure at the moment," Modiba added.

The department, however, noted some fears from individuals who lived close to quarantine sites after residents raised concerns over whether they were at risk of the virus.

In a statement on 7 June, it said it had to clarify the virus was not airborne and was spread mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

"We therefore implore communities that have quarantine sites in their midst not to ostracise these critical facilities and people who work or are attached to the facilities, which form a key part of the strategy [to] fight the spread of this pandemic for the benefit of all communities in the province," it added.

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