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Photo: Maksim Goncharenok, Pexels

Covid and sick leave

A useful guide to difficult questions around absenteeism and pay during the pandemic.

Although we have been held siege by the pandemic virus for a year, many employers are still unclear about how they should handle coronavirus cases in the workplace. We hope to shed some light on the most common concerns, but remember that if you have any further queries, RMI will be happy to provide advice.

One of the questions employers most frequently ask is: what to do if an employee has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid? In these instances, the employee is required to quarantine for 14 days, after which they may return to work if they remain symptom-free. The employee will not require a medical certificate, as there will be no sign of infection

Photo: Anna Shvets, Pexels

If, on the other hand, an employee absents himself because he is displaying Covid symptoms, he will have to isolate for 10 days. This period is shorter than quarantine because it is presumed that the four days required for symptoms to present have already passed. The employee should present a medical certificate when he returns to work.

Finally, if an employee advises that they are experiencing symptoms while at work, they should be sent home and continue with self-isolation for 10 days. A medical certificate is not required, because the instruction to be released from duty was issued by the employer.

Although medical certificates may not be required from a legal point of view because of the potential impact on the employee’s salary, it is advisable that the employee provide a Covid status certificate on their return to work. Proof of a positive status may serve as a substitute for a medical certificate in all cases. 

In terms of payment, a medical certificate is not required for the first two days of absence. If a certificate is presented, payment must be made for the days of absence. This may take the form of the usual payment for sick leave if there is existing sick leave available. If the employee is a member of the Sick, Accident, and Maternity Pay Fund, the usual claim must be submitted to the Fund. If the employee does not produce a medical certificate but advised the employer of the need to quarantine or isolate, the employer should apply to the UIF Fund on behalf of the employee, helping make a claim of Reduced Working Time. Please note that the UIF Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS Fund) is no longer available for such cases. Finally, if the employee appears to have contracted the virus while at work, they can make a claim to the Rand Mutual Association under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act. 

If you feel that a case is unclear, it’s best to err on the side of caution, remembering that, as an employer, you have a duty and responsibility to look after the health and safety of your employees. An employee who gets a few days of unwarranted sick leave is a far lesser threat to the business – and to your community and other employees – than one who is forced to work while ill. That said, you are within your rights to ask for proof of illness.

Jacques Viljoen, Regional Manager at the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), discusses what employers and employees should know about sick leave during Covid-19.
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