The Corona virus and your employees

Coronavirus in South Africa

The first confirmed case of the
coronavirus (COVID-19) was confirmed in South Africa on 5 March 2020. As of the
6 March 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the coronavirus
had approximately:
  • At
    least 93,000 reported cases globally; and
  • At
    least 3,100 reported deaths globally.

The symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of
infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and
breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia,
severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Sick leave

Where an employee has presented with
symptoms that may closely resemble the coronavirus, it is advisable that they
take sick leave. The minimum standard for sick leave is 6 weeks during every
36-month sick leave cycle in terms of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of
Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA). This amounts to 30 days every 3-year cycle. The employer may refuse to pay sick
leave if the employee has been absent for more than two consecutive days or on
more than two occasions during an eight-week period (see section 23 of the
BCEA) unless the employee produces a medical certificate issued and signed by a
medical practitioner. Where an employee has exhausted
their sick in their respective 3-year cycle, they may apply for annual leave.
Section 20 of the BCEA provides, as a general rule, that an employee is
entitled to 21 consecutive days’ leave during a 12-month annual leave cycle. Both sick leave and annual leave are
paid by the employer.

Family responsibility leave

Where an employee suspects that an
immediate family member, may have symptoms that closely resemble the
coronavirus, they may be able to take family responsibility leave. Section 27
of the BCEA makes provision for family responsibility leave. This leave may
only be taken in the case of certain specific events and an employer may
require reasonable proof of the event having taken place. One may argue that the
coronavirus may be one such specific event that would warrant family
responsibility leave. Family responsibility leave has
certain conditions attached to it in terms of which relative may entitle an
employee to take leave in terms of family responsibility. However, employers
need to be sympathetic to different cultures, traditions and beliefs and to
make reasonable accommodation for this when deciding whether or not to grant
family responsibility leave in terms of relationship proximity.

Unpaid leave

It is common for an employee who
becomes ill or who is injured to take excessive amounts of sick leave. However,
an employee’s statutory and/or contractual sick leave is limited to 30 days in
3-year cycle. Once exhausted, it will become problematic for the employee. There is no legal obligation imposed
upon an employer to grant an employee unpaid leave and this is left at the sole
discretion of an employer. Employers should in the appropriate circumstances,
seriously consider granting an employee unpaid leave if he or she is ill. If unpaid leave is granted, the
contract of employment is not suspended nor is it terminated, the contract of
employment will continue but the employee will not be paid his wage or salary.
If an employee is granted unpaid leave, an employer may not permanently appoint
a replacement in the employee’s position. The employer may, however,
temporarily appoint an employee to perform the incapacitated employee’s duties
until such time as that employee has recovered and is well enough to return to
work. Alternative arrangements – working
from home
Where it is possible for businesses
to do so, they may encourage their staff to work from home. This is not the
same as taking leave. The employee will be expected to work a full day as per
usual, however instead of going into the workplace to do so, they would be
performing their functions from home. It is also worth noting, that
depending on the resources that an employee would require, they may not be able
to work to their full capacity. Do I have to supply masks in my
Employers may feel the need to start
providing masks, sanitizers etc in the workplace in the wake of the coronavirus
outbreak. This may be especially so where a large segment of employee
population is immunocompromised. However, good hygiene practices in the
workplace may be enough. Where there is no express provisions relating to
general health and safety legislation (such as General Safety Regulations – GNR
1031 of 30 May 1986 found under Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993),
it may not be necessary for employers to provide masks and sanitizers to their
employees. However, this is may be industry
specific and depending on what type of work is being carried out, may be
necessary for employers to take extra health and safety precautions against the
spread and infection of the coronavirus on their employees. Standard recommendations to prevent
Standard recommendations to prevent
infection spread (from WHO) include:
  • regular
    hand washing;
  • covering
    mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing;
  • thoroughly
    cooking meat and eggs;
  • avoid
    close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as
    coughing and sneezing.
For any further information, please
feel free to contact us at [email protected] The South African Department of
Health’s Corona Virus Outbreak 24-Hour Hotline Number is 08 000 29999 or you
may visit

Article Disclaimer

This article is not intended to
provide legal advice. This article is a general information sheet and should
not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability
can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising
from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser
for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).


Nozipho Mvulane

Nozipho Sybil Mvulane

AttorneyRajaram Mvulane AttorneysNozipho Sybil Mvulane is an admitted attorney. She is an experienced content creator and editor. She is also a legal professional with a demonstrated history of working in the information and legal services industry. She has experience in both the legal and corporate sector. She is also comfortable in both research and a training environment. She is multilingual and is comfortable with conversing with people in English, IsiXhosa and IsiZulu.

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