Coronavirus and the Workplace – the Legal Obligations for Employers

By 10th Mar 2020Mar 16th, 2020Employment Law

Employers bear the onus, in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (“the Act”), to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for employees.

But what exactly does this mean for Employers? What are the duties of an Employer in this instance? How does an Employer ensure the safety of the workplace, its employees and prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 (“Coronavirus’’)?

This article aims to provide a practical approach for Employers in terms of complying with their obligations under the Act.

How is the Coronavirus transmitted?

According to the World Health Organisation, the Coronavirus is mostly transmitted in instances where persons affected by the virus cough or exhale thereby releasing droplets of infected fluid. In a workplace, most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects such as desks, tables, computers, telephones and remain on such surfaces for up to 20 minutes.

Employees become infected with Coronavirus by touching the contaminated surfaces and thereafter touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

In addition, the Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby and possibly be inhaled into the uninfected person’s lungs.

Obligations of the Employer

  • Educate and provide guidance to employees on the symptoms of the virus and the precautions that should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus;
  • assess the risk of exposure;
  • avoid handshaking and / or hugging;
  • promote hand washing for at least 20 seconds after touching others or after being exposed to surfaces;
  • advise employees to avoid touching body orifices such as the mouth, eyes and/or nose; and
  • implement a procedure in circumstances where employees become ill or are suspected of having the Coronavirus by:
    • advising employees who display any symptoms indicative of the virus to stay at home and isolate themselves until such time that they have been tested, received medical attention and fully recovered;
    • ensuring that the workplace is clean and hygienic by regularly cleaning shared areas;
    • placing hand sanitisers in shared places;
    • discouraging travel to any affected area until such time that the virus has been contained; and
    • immediately contact the Department of Health or medical official in circumstances where the employer is of the opinion that the workplace has been compromised.

Employers are encouraged to be proactive and take precautionary steps to contain the Coronavirus while at all times maintaining a balancing act in an effort promote any hysteria that may arise.

VARUSHA NAIDOO

Partner | HJW Attorneys | Employment Law Department

MEEGAN REDDY

Candidate Attorney