EMPLOYER’S GUIDE: What to do when an employee is diagnosed with Covid-19
Updated: Jul 23
Due to the close proximity of employees in workplaces, it is imperative that employers consider the risks posed by Covid-19 and adhere to the legislative obligations imposed upon them.
STEPS TO BE TAKEN WHEN AN EMPLOYER IS CONFRONTED WITH A COVID-19 POSITIVE CASE:
1. Isolate the employee from all other employees or communal employee areas;
2. Assess the risk of transmission to other employees whilst the employee was at the workplace by disinfecting all areas of the workplace the employee had access to as well as the employee’s workstation or office;
3. Refer all employees who may be at risk due to having had close contact with the Employee who presented COVID-19 symptoms for screening and take any other appropriate measure to prevent possible transmission;
4. Ensure that the employee is tested or referred to an identified testing site;
5. The employer must report the Covid-19 positive case to the Department of Health and the Department of Employment and Labour:
- The Department of Health can be contacted on its Covid-19 hotline: 0800 02 9999.
- The Department of Labour can be contacted at David.Esau@labour.gov.za / (Call
Centre) 0800 843 843 / 041 506 5000.
6. Place the employee on paid sick leave in terms of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, No. 75 of 1997 (“the BCEA”) or if the employee’s sick leave entitlement under the section is exhausted, make application for UIF illness benefits or benefits in terms of the COVID-19 Temporary Employer Employee Relief Scheme (“the TERS”);
7. If there is evidence that the employee contracted COVID-19 as a result of occupational exposure, lodge a claim for compensation in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, No. 30 of 1993 (“the OHSA”).
WHAT IS DEEMED TO BE CLOSE CONTACT?
According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), a Covid-19 positive employee is deemed to have had “close contact” with someone if he/she had face-to-face contact within 1 metre or was in a closed space with someone for more than 15 minutes. This contact must have occurred whilst the Covid-19 positive employee was still “infectious”, i.e. from 2 days before to 14 days after their symptoms began.
WHEN IS THE EMPLOYER FORCED TO SHUT DOWN OPERATIONS?
Regulation 20.11.3 of the Government Notice provides that the employer must determine the need to temporarily close the affected work area for decontamination using an incident-based risk assessment with due regard to the Department of Health's Guidelines.
It may not always be necessary to close the immediate workplace, and certainly not the entire workplace, if the employee has had limited access to the building or premises, or limited contact with fellow employees. It would be sufficient, according to the regulations and the OHSA, for the employee to be restricted from entering the workplace.
If the employee is already at the workplace, isolate him/her and provide him/her with a medical facemask and arrange for the employee to be transported to a health facility or an area of self-isolation, in such a manner that does not expose other employees or members of the public to exposure.
Embark upon a decontamination processes and continue to exclude the employee from the workplace until such time as a medical practitioner has certified the employee fit to return to work.
In the interim, provided that the employer is compliant with its statutory obligations in terms of the OHSA directions, and the applicable regulations, it would be entitled to carry on with its operations without having to shut down access to other employees, or to members of the public seeking its services.
Any employees who were ordinarily or actually in contact with the symptomatic employee would need to be screened and monitored and may even be sent on a 14-day precautionary quarantine.
Where possible, the employer should arrange for employees placed in quarantine to work remotely and to the extent that this is not possible, such employees should be placed on sick leave and/or annual leave and/or unpaid leave as provided by the BCEA.
CONDITIONS FOR RETURN TO WORKPLACE:
If an employee has been diagnosed with Covid-19 and has been isolated in accordance with the guidelines, an employer may only allow a worker to return to work on the following conditions:
- The employee has completed the mandatory 10 (previously 14) days of self-isolation; or
- The employee has undergone a medical evaluation confirming fitness to work.
The measures set out above are the current legal obligations of the employer, in terms of the OHSA directions and the regulations. It is required that employers adopt these measures when they are confronted with a Covid-19 positive case in the workplace.
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