Employers should be careful when contemplating disciplinary action against employees who are absent from the workplace due to self-isolation from COVID-19 exposure.
Two CCMA cases, with varying outcomes, confirm that these matters should be dealt with systematically and only after adequately investigating the facts.
In Mehlala v Cybersmart (Pty) Ltd (2021) 7 BALR 749, the CCMA confirmed that OHS Regulations require an employee to self-isolate for a period of 10 days or longer if the employee shows symptoms.
The commissioner found the employer’s instruction to the employee to return to work because they did not believe the employee’s test result was unlawful. They should have first investigated the circumstances more carefully before just accusing the employee of absence.
In AMCU obo Skosana v 4 Arrows Minning and Engineering (2021) 8 BALR 793, the employee was, among others, sent home after a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19. They were told to self-isolate for ten days and then return to work if they were not ill.
The employee failed to return and, upon enquiry, told the manager that he was not feeling well. He was instructed to undergo a test, which he failed to do. He was then charged and subsequently dismissed for failing to return to work.
Employers should approach and deal with these types of situations after properly investigating the facts of the matter. Hastily making assumptions and dealing with these absences in ignorance of the regulations can result in undesirable outcomes for employers.
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