In brief

Employers in South Africa resuming business operations under Level four of the government mandated lock-down should take heed of the Department of Health Guidelines for symptom monitoring and management of essential workers for COVID-19 related infections. These Guidelines are echoed in the COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Workplaces Directive published on 28 April 2020. Johan Botes, Tracy van der Colff and Kirsty Gibson, from the Johannesburg Employment & Compensation practice group, discuss this further.

With more workers returning to the workplace after the implementation of Level four lockdown, one level below the initial, more restrictive Level five, employers should take heed of the Department of Health Guidelines (“Guidelines“) for symptom monitoring and management of essential workers for COVID-19 related infections.

Employers resuming business operations under Level four of the government mandated lock-down are subject to the Guidelines, as these Guidelines are echoed in the COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Workplaces Directive published by the Minister of Employment and Labour on 28 April 2020 (“Directive“). Employers should be mindful that the Directive places obligations on employers that extend past symptom screening alone. Additional employer obligations include adhering to social distancing regulations, providing sufficient quantities of hand sanitizer in the workplace and providing employees with a minimum of two cloth face masks each. The Directive also distinguishes between the obligations of larger versus smaller employers, although the obligations largely overlap.

In terms of the Guidelines, all employees should be screened for COVID-19 related symptoms, coughing, sore throat, fever/chills, shortness of breath, redness of eyes, prior to entering the workplace. Employees should be screened at the outset of their shift and prior to their shift ending. COVID-19 related symptoms must be reported to a designated person or an occupational health practitioner at the workplace. Where an employee presents any COVID-19 related symptoms, or additional symptoms as captured in the symptom monitoring sheet hyperlinked below, they must be provided with a surgical mask and either be referred to the designated staff at the workplace or appropriate medical facility, so that further assessment and/or testing can be done. The employee’s workstation, and the area around it, must also be disinfected.

Employers should implement the guidance outlined in scenarios one to four below, depending on the outcome of an employee’s COVID-19 screening and/or test:

  1. Employee tests positive for COVID-19: The employee must be placed on sick leave and must self-isolate at home. The employer must notify the National Institution for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the Department of Employment and Labour. Employees can only return 14 days after the onset of symptoms or 14 days after clinical stability, in severe cases.
  2. Employee has current flu-like symptoms: The employee should be assessed by a health professional. If the employee presents symptoms of an acute respiratory infection, they should be tested for COVID-19. If the test comes back negative, normal sick leave procedures must be followed. If the test comes back positive, the scenario set-out above must be followed.
  3. Employees who have a high-risk of exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace: High-risk means that the employee was within one meter of a confirmed case of COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes without personal protective equipment (PPE) and came into direct contact with droplets from the COVID-19 patient’s nose or mouth. The line manager must first assess and confirm the exposure to the virus. If the exposure is confirmed, the NICD must be notified. The head of department must approve that the employee self-isolate for at least seven days. The employee should also perform daily self-checks for symptoms and complete the symptom monitoring sheet for 14 days after the exposure. If the employee is asymptomatic for seven days after the exposure, the employer may consider that they return to work following a negative result of a real-time COVID-19 test, RT-PCR, on day eight. Should COVID-19 symptoms develop, employers must follow scenario two.
  4. Employees who have a low-risk of exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace: Low-risk means that the employee was more than one metre away from a confirmed case of COVID-19 for less than 15 minutes or within one meter of a confirmed case of COVID-19 but they were wearing PPE to cover their mouth, nose and/or eyes. The line manager must still assess and confirm the exposure, however, the employee may continue to work while self-monitoring for 14 days. Self-monitoring must include temperature checks twice daily and a daily symptom check. Should COVID-19 symptoms develop, employers must follow scenario two.

All employees returning to work after isolation must follow general work restrictions, including:

  • Undergoing a medical examination to confirm that they are fit to work.
  • Wearing surgical masks for 21 days from the initial test.
  • Adhere to social distancing measures, hand and respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.
  • Continue to self-monitor symptoms and seek medical re-evaluation if symptoms recur.

COVID-19 regulations and guidelines are changing rapidly. Employers should constantly ensure that the regulations and guidelines they are following are the most recent and up-to-date measures published by the South African Government. For additional information on recent COVID-19 regulations and guidelines, visit Baker McKenzie’s Beyond COVID-19 webpage.

Employers can access the symptom monitoring sheet here and the flow diagrams for scenario one to four here.