woman wearing a mask
(Getty)
  • New government regulations now require that companies with more than 50 workers submit weekly reports about Covid-19 developments.
  • The new rules also outline in more detail when staff who have contracted Covid-19 – or have had exposure to the disease – can return to work.
  • It makes a distinction between people who had mild symptoms, and those who required hospitalisation.
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Lockdown regulations may have eased, but government has introduced more stringent regulations for workplaces.

New rules have been gazetted to prevent and combat the spread of Covid-19 in South African workplaces.

While one might have expected the measures to be less strict than before, the opposite is true, says Jan Truter, director of the labour advisory service Labourwise.

Some of the new requirements include:

  • An employer who employs more than 50 employees must submit a record of its risk assessment, as well as a Covid-19 health and safety policy, to the Department of Employment and Labour by 22 October. This new direction previously only applied to employers with more than 500 employees, says Truter.
  • An employer who employs more than 50 employees must also now submit a weekly report on a number of issues (e.g. vulnerability status, screening details, testing results, high risk contacts, post infection outcomes) to the National Institute for Occupational Health.
  • For all companies, there are new requirements surrounding the return to work of an employee who has tested positive for Covid-19.

According to the new regulations, workers diagnosed with Covid-19 are only allowed to return to work (without requiring viral testing) if they have completed ten days of isolation from the onset of symptoms – but only if the employee had a mild case of infection, which didn’t require hospitalisation. If the employee had a severe case, and required supplemental oxygen or hospitalisation, they may only return 10 days from the date of achieving “clinical stability”. They may only return earlier if medical evaluation confirmed their fitness to work.

The employers must closely monitor the worker for symptoms on return to work, and the workers must wear a surgical mask for 21 days from the date of diagnosis, the new rules state.

  • There are also new periods of monitoring and quarantine for different levels of risk.

If a worker has been in contact in the workplace with another worker who has been diagnosed with Covid-19, the employer must assess that worker's exposure in accordance with the Department of Health's Guidelines to determine whether there was a high or low risk of transmission between the workers.  

If there is a low-risk exposure, the employer may permit the worker to continue working using a cloth mask, but the worker's symptoms for 10 days must be monitored from the first contact.

If there is a high-risk exposure, workers must remain in quarantine for 10 days and the employer of that worker must place the worker on sick leave. If the worker remains asymptomatic, no further testing is required before he or she returns to work.

Health workers must only remain in quarantine for 7 days in case of a high-risk exposure - or with the agreement of the worker, 5 days.  

READ | Porn addiction, anxiety surged among SA workers during lockdown, workplace counsellors say

  • There are more details about the dispute resolution process for employees who refuse to work.

The new regulations outline in more detail what happens if a worker refuses to perform any work “if circumstances arise which, with reasonable justification” appear to pose an “imminent and serious” risk of their exposure to Covid-19.

The employee who has refused to perform work must notify the employer of the reason for the refusal. The employer - after consultation with the compliance officer and the health and safety committee or, if there is no committee, a health and safety representative – must then endeavour to resolve “any issue that may arise” from the refusal.

If the employer disagrees with the refusal, a local government health and safety inspector must be alerted within 24 hours. The inspector must then advise the employee and the employer in resolving the issue.

No person may threaten to take any action against an employee if he or she refused to work for fear of contracting Covid-19 – and they also can’t be dismissed, disciplined, prejudiced or harassed.

If there is a dispute, the employee may refer the dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration or an accredited bargaining council.

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