BY Lauren Salt
South Africa: special leave benefits announced for employees in self-quarantine
As a result of the increasing spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), many employees may consider placing themselves in self-quarantine after possible exposure to the virus. Self-quarantine is a precautionary measure taken by a person who has been in contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19, but has not tested positive or is not showing any symptoms of the virus. The increasing nature of confirmed cases of the coronavirus may result in a situation where an employer requires an employee to self-quarantine himself or herself, or the employee may request to be in self-quarantine.
If an employee is in self-quarantine and he or she is unable to work remotely from home, the employee will not be regarded to be on sick leave. In addition to this, South African legislation does not recognise leave that caters for forced self-quarantine. As a result, there would need to be some form of “special leave” to cater for employees who find themselves in such a situation. The Department of Employment and Labour has recently announced measures that it has put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 and the impact it has on employees who contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (“UIF”). Unemployment insurance is funded by employer and employee contributions to the UIF. The Department has recently issued an “Easy-Aid Guide For Employers For UIF Benefits” which makes provision for compensation claims by employees who are in quarantine through its existing illness benefits.
In terms of the guide, illness benefits are available to employees who are quarantined for 14 days, irrespective of whether the employee is ill or not. The employer and the employee must provide a confirmation letter to the UIF, together with the employee’s application, which will indicate that the employer and the employee have agreed to the 14 days’ special leave. In this instance, the confirmation letter will replace a medical certificate as the employee would have self-quarantined without prior consultation with a medical practitioner. The benefits will be paid based on the confirmation letter and the employee’s application. However, should an employee be in quarantine for more than 14 days, a medical certificate will have to be submitted by the employee concerned.
Notwithstanding that there have been no formal regulations or amendments in terms of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 2001 (“UIA”), it appears that the UIF recognises quarantine leave as a form of special leave warranting the provision of benefits as envisaged in the UIA. This development is part of the government’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on workplaces. It is, however, unclear whether this form of special leave will continue to be recognised by the UIF when the pandemic has been contained and when its impact on workplaces has been reduced.
An employee will only be entitled to illness benefits where they are absent from work due to COVID-19 and where the employee and employer have agreed that the employee should go into self-quarantine and that the employee’s absence will constitute “special leave”. It follows that special leave will only be considered by the UIF where it has been implemented by agreement. It must be noted that where an employee does, in fact, become ill due to contracting COVID-19 such an employee would, in any event, be entitled to benefits in terms of the UIF after the 14 day quarantine period.
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COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020. The disease has since been reported in over 190 countries.
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