25 FEBRUARY 2021
Sick leave crisis continues
Businesses are facing an uphill battle with employee attendance due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Are employees entitled to paid sick leave, annual leave, unpaid leave, UIF illness benefits or Compensation Fund benefits?
The situation can be summarised as follows: (a) Employee presents with or advises of COVID-19 symptoms:
The employer must place the employee on paid sick leave in terms of the BCEA. The employer may require the employee to produce a valid medical certificate before paying the employee. If sick leave is exhausted, the employee may claim UIF illness benefits. (b) Employee has had a ‘high risk’ exposure to someone with COVID-19 inside the workplace:
Where an employer makes an assessment that the employee has had a ‘high risk’ exposure to COVID-19 at work, the employee should provisonally be placed on paid sick leave. The employee does not have to produce a medical certificate. However, if COVID-19 is later confirmed, the absence should not be dealt with as sick leave in terms of the BCEA, but rather as a claim for compensation in terms of COIDA. (c) Employee has had a ‘low risk’ exposure to someone with COVID-19 inside the workplace:
The employee is not entitled to sick leave unless the employer decides that the employee must stay at home. (d) Employee has had a ‘high risk’ exposure to a COVID-19 positive case outside the workplace:
The matter will be treated in a similar way to an employee who has been exposed in a Covid-positive case in the workplace. The employee should self-isolate, but also the employer may insist that the employee provides substantiating evidence before treating it as paid sick leave (for example proof that the person who the employee alleges having been in contact with has in fact been tested positive). (e) Employee has had a ‘low risk’ exposure to a COVID-19 positive case outside the workplace:
The employee is not entitled to sick leave unless the employer decides that the employee must stay at home. (f) Vulnerable employees:
The absence of an employee from work merely due the employee being vulnerable, may be treated as annual leave or unpaid leave. In exceptional circumstances the employer may treat it as paid sick leave, but it remains in the employer’s discretion. If a treating doctor /occupational medical practitioner is willing to motivate the employee’s absence as ‘temporary incapacity’, the employee may be able to claim UIF ‘illness benefits’. (g) Agreed quarantine & Illness benefits:
Since the discontinuation of C19TERS benefits on 15 October 2020, the 14 days’ ‘illness benefits’ for agreed quarantine in terms of that scheme are no longer available. However, normal UIF illness benefits for up to 10 days’ quarantine/self-isolation remain available to employees who have exhausted their sick leave.