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COVID-19 Labour Questions Answered

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Published Date: March 28, 2020

Ensuring Effective Management of Remote Working

As a starting point, it is important for me to mention that employers should take steps to guard against their employees abusing the office time while working remotely. This will entail the employers monitoring their employee’s emails; however, this must be in accordance with the applicable privacy laws in South Africa. Secondly, the employers must also request their employees to submit timesheets to report on their work activities during their time at home.

Ensuring the Health and Safety of Workers Who Need to Be Onsite

The Occupational Health and Safety Act places a duty on employers to provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable or possible, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of their employees.

Legal recourse will depend on the nature of a particular breach. For instance: if in ensuring a safe working environment, the employer requires employees who may have the virus to self-isolate, and the employee refuses, such an employee may be disciplined. If an employer fails to act in accordance with their duties in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer may be held liable in terms of the Act.

Enforcement of Remote Working

Employee’s rights, if any, would depend on the reasons they are working remotely or in social isolation. For instance, and generally speaking: if the employer requires them to work remotely, they will be entitled to their salaries. If an employee, however, is subjected to self-isolation or quarantine at the behest of government (which we understand may now apply in certain instances), it is arguable that the employee would not be entitled to his / her salary from the employer.

Top Tips for Employers and Employees

Employers should stay abreast of developments of the virus spread, government requirements and notices, etc. Employers should take appropriate planning, preventative and precautionary measures to safeguard against the virus. Employers should effectively communicate with their employees of their plans to manage or reduce the spreading of the virus in their workplaces.

This may also be an opportune time for employers to test the viability of their employees working flexi time and / or from home. And lastly, if employers are unsure of their obligations towards their employees, they should seek legal advice.

In relation to employees

Employees should be aware of the steps to be taken if they feel that they may have contracted the virus. Employees must take appropriate precautionary measures to safeguard against the virus; not only at work, but also at home. Employees should not abuse any flexi-time or work-from-home arrangements; it may constitute serious misconduct for which they could be disciplined. Employees should pay careful attention to any instructions provided by the employer in respect of the virus. And lastly, if employees are unsure of their rights, they should seek legal advice.

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