The minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi has published a new directive on 11 June 2021 focusing on Covid-19 and the workplace, outlining the health and safety protocols that businesses and employees are required to follow during the lockdown.
All employers must be compliant by 1 July 2021 according to the updated directive.
While a number of the regulations have been gazetted before, this directive serves to consolidate and update the existing regulations as it deals with new issues such as vaccinations and whether an employer can make them mandatory.
The updated directive gives an employer 21 days to make a decision on whether it intends to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, taking into account the operational requirements of the workplace.
If an employer does decide to make vaccinations mandatory, it is also required to identify employees who by virtue of the risk of transmission through work, age, or co-morbidities, must be vaccinated.
Employers will also be required to develop a plan outlining the protective measures in place for the phased return of workers, and the measures it plans to implement to ensure that workers are vaccinated.
Other issues which should be included in the plan are:
· The date the workplace will open and the hours it will be opening;
· A list of employees permitted to work and those who are required and able to work from home;
· The plan and timetable for the phased return of employees;
· The employees who have been identified as vulnerable;
· Ways of minimising workers in the workplace;
· The measures for the daily screening of employees, clients, contractors, and visitors;
· Procedures for employees who refuse to work due to fear of exposure to Covid-19.
Should the employer decide to make vaccinations mandatory, this should also be explicitly included in the plan, as and when Covid-19 vaccines become available for those employees.
The directive states that employees still have a right to refuse the vaccine on constitutional or medical grounds, and should be allowed to consult with a health and safety representative or a worker representative or trade union official.
If reasonable and practical the employer should also provide transport to and from the vaccination site for the worker, and is required to give the worker time off should they have side effects following the vaccination.
Should an employee refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds, the employer should:
· Counsel the employee, and if requested, allow the employee to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, worker representative, or trade union representative;
· Refer for medical evaluation should there be a be medical contraindication for vaccination;
· If necessary, takes steps to reasonably accommodate an employee in a position that does not require them to be vaccinated.
The directive states that this ‘accommodation’ means any reasonable change that would allow an employee to keep their job, such as working offsite or from home, or in isolation at the workplace. This may also include the requirement that the employee wears an N95 mask.
Employers of more than 10 employees have a very limited time period to conduct a mandatory COVID-19 risk assessment taking into account the amendments to the Department of Employment and Labour Occupational Health and Safety Direction that was published on 11 June 2021. The ultimate objective is to make an informed decision on whether the employer is required to make COVID 19 vaccinations mandatory or not. Irrespective of the outcome, the risk assessment, and Workplace Plan must be updated and consulted with the stipulated stakeholders.
The EOHCB can provide members with a Consolidated Occupational Health and Safety Toolkit which contains the following:
· The Consolidated Occupational Health and Safety Directive
· Templates of mandatory and voluntary COVID-19 vaccination policies
· Compliance map in terms of COVID-19 Vaccination checklist
· A workplace risk assessment matrix
· Mandatory employer support to employees checklist
· Employee applications for exemption guidelines
· Telephonic/email consultation advice for any questions regarding the Occupational Health and Safety directive
Cost of the toolkit for EOHCB members: R250.00
Cost of the toolkit for non-members of the EOHCB: R1635.00
Should a member or non-member be interested in purchasing the toolkit, please enquire via firstname.lastname@example.org.