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  • The coronavirus crisis has caused uncertainty about leave and sick leave.
  • Businesses are worried about the build-up of leave days during lockdown, you may lose these days if you don’t take them in a specific period.
  • If you contract the virus, you have to claim sick leave – unless you contract it on the job.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

As the coronavirus death toll rises to above 1,400 in South Africa, and thousands of employees test positive for the virus across the country, businesses find themselves in unchartered waters.

In some instances, the rules for leave and sick leave have had to change.

Here’s what you need to know: 

What can your employer do about your unused leave?

With nowhere to go during the national lockdown, many South Africans have cancelled their leave.

Companies are getting worried about the build-up of these leave days, because they will have to pay them out in cash if you resign or are retrenched.

It could also cause operational problems if everyone wants to take time off after lockdown.

By law, you must take your annual leave within 6 months after the leave cycle – or risk losing the leave days.

But companies can change their holiday leave policy to allow more of your leave to be carried forward over a longer period, or buy back unused leave days from you.

READ | South Africans are not taking leave in lockdown - and companies are getting worried

Can your company force you to take annual leave if it can’t operate during lockdown?

Employers are within their rights to insist that you take leave during the lockdown in this case, says Pieter Human, director of the labour advisory service Labourwise.

If you don’t have enough annual leave days available, this will be unpaid – but the company can claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s so-called Covid-19 Temporary Relief (TERS).  Workers who are put on leave, have been laid off temporarily, or whose employers can’t afford to pay their full salaries are entitled to the special TERS payout from the UIF.

The maximum a worker will get is R6,730 a month (if you earn more than R17,700) – while the minimum amount is R3,500.

READ | Top SA companies received UIF crisis money – how to check if your employer got any

Should you get paid for public holidays if you are on leave during lockdown?

Employees on annual leave must be paid for the public holiday as under normal circumstances, says Aadil Patel, director and national head of Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr’s Employment practice. 

Can you accrue leave during the lockdown, even if you aren’t working?

Employees can accrue leave during the lockdown period whether they work or not - unless your contract states that you accrue leave on a daily basis (in other words per agreement of 1 day of leave for every 17 days worked), says Patel. 

Do you have to claim sick leave if you have symptoms of Covid-19 and have to stay at home?

By law, an employee must be placed on sick leave if you present with symptoms of Covid-19. Your employer must also ensure that you are tested or referred to an identified testing site, says Jan Truter of Labourwise.

But your employer can require proof of illness if you are absent for more than two days  and is not required to pay you unless you can produce a valid medical certificate, Truter adds.

If your sick leave is exhausted, you can claim an ‘illness benefits’ from the UIF Ters scheme – for the “quarantine” period or if you test positive for coronavirus.

South African workers who work five days per week are entitled to 30 days sick leave in a three-year cycle. 

What happens if you contracted Covid-19 at work?

Covid-19 has recently been declared an occupational disease in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA). This means that if an employee is absent from work due to contracting the virus during the course and scope of his or her employment, such leave will be covered in terms of COIDA, says Patel.

COIDA stipulates that sick leave does not apply to an inability to work caused by an accident or occupational disease. You therefore don’t have to use your sick leave allocation.

“In terms of the COIDA notice, payment for total temporary disablement will be made by the Compensation Fund for as long as the disablement continues (i.e. as long as the employee is booked off), but not for a period exceeding 30 days,” says Truter.

In suspected or unconfirmed cases (where there is no positive diagnosis), a medical practitioner may recommend self-quarantine. According to the COIDA notice the employer is responsible for remunerating the employee in these circumstances, says Truter.

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