While employees generally cannot be stopped from undertaking personal travel, South African companies may implement policies which limit the growing impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Speaking to BusinessTech, Talita Laubscher, a partner at law firm Bowmans, said that employers may consider putting interim policies in place which provide that personal holidays to ‘at-risk’ areas should be avoided.

She added that the employer could reserve its right to refuse approving an employee’s time off for travel to those areas based on its operational requirements until such time that the virus has been contained.

“These policies would however have to be carefully drafted, taking into account those employees who had time off approved by their employer in advance and holidays booked to ‘at-risk’ areas prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

“As an alternative measure, an employer may consider implementing policies which provide that employees are to obtain credible travel advice before travelling to affected areas and/or where personal holidays to those areas are booked by an employee, any subsequent 14 day isolation period should, to the extent possible, be taken as annual or unpaid leave.”

Laubscher said this approach would need to be handled with caution. If the employee returns from his/her holiday sick, then sick leave would be applicable, she added.

Can an employee refuse to attend work because of concerns about contracting the virus?

Laubscher this issue would have to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

“Employers should listen to employee concerns and seek to resolve issues if possible. If an employee has a particular health issue, this should be taken into consideration,” she said.

“If there is a reasonable concern that an employee may contract the virus while attending work (e.g. if there is reason to believe that a fellow employee has been infected or has been in contact with an infected person), the employer should investigate these concerns with urgency and take the necessary precautionary measures.”

Laubscher said that annual leave, flexi/remote working or unpaid leave could be offered to employees in these circumstances and if any employees are sick, then sick leave would be applicable.

“However, upon proper investigation by the employer, should there be no real reason for concern or fear about contracting the virus (e.g. where it is found that false information has been circulating), employees who fail to obey a reasonable instruction to attend work can be disciplined,” she said.

“Having said this, we would advise that employers adopt a cautionary approach.”

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