GUIDELINE ON COVID-19 AND RELATED POLICIES
THE COVID-19 VIRUS DECLARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY IN SOUTH AFRICA
The COVID-19 Virus has been declared a worldwide Pandemic. In response, our South African Government has as at 15 March 2020, declared the COVID-19 virus a National Disaster.
All South Africans, as law abiding and ethical citizens, need to stand together and fight this pandemic, protecting our borders as well as those within our borders from contracting the virus.
Organizations that fail to deal with its implications effectively and that do not maintain public and stakeholder trust, are likely to suffer significant adverse and longer-term consequences to their businesses and indirectly to the South African economy.
The way the crisis is handled internally and externally will therefore play a key role in maintaining the trust of employees, customers, clients and regulators.
Failing to manage the COVID–19 crisis will jeopardise your Organization’s reputation, financial stability, and key relationships around the world, as well as the South African economy. It can also divert senior management’s time from the strategic objective of one’s business.
Being prepared, responding quickly and recovering (and if necessary, taking remedial measures) are essential in managing your reputation in a crisis.
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU BE DOING?
1. All Organizations should establish a COVID-19 Task Team. The team should be comprised of at least the following persons:
A director who is a member of the Social and Ethics Committee;
At least 2 ExCom members or persons from senior management;
A representative from the Risk Committee or Risk department;
A senior representative from H.R;
The SHEQ Manager;
A nurse or Doctor who is employed in the Organization’s Occupational Health Clinic;
A Union representative, where applicable;
General Counsel or a legal advisor employed in the Organization’s in-house legal department.
The duties of the Task Team will include, inter alia,
monitoring all developments in consultation with a general practitioner and to continually advise the Organization on how best it can safeguard itself and its employees, and help prevent the spread of the virus;
deciding on, developing and implementing the required safeguards and controls across the Organization;
communicating with all employees across the Organization, as well as with the Organization’s consultants and service providers, contractors, clients and customers, the community where the Organization is located, its investors and security holders as well as with any other stakeholder;
deciding on a policy with regard to the virus and response mechanism, including adopting an appropriate sick leave policy, which is both ethical and legal, deciding whether employees and consultants should be made to work from home and the resultant decision to implement remote work stations.
2. All Organizations must immediately implement the necessary precautions within the workplace, in order to prevent the spread of the virus which will apply without exception to anyone who enters the workplace, which should include communications in the form of posters setting out the rules which all should follow in respect of basic hygiene measures, such as:
- no sneezing or coughing without using a tissue;
- no contact with others – a ban on hugging and handshaking;
- no sharing of food and beverage or containers;
- no close contact – keep your distance;
- regular handwashing using soap and water or alco based sanitizer; etc,
- which communications should be placed throughout the Organization’s buildings, and which should be regularly updated as circumstances dictate and permit.
3. Organizations should review all office cleaning processes and where applicable implement additional measures such as the wiping down of lift buttons, stair cases and handles, door handles, etc.
4. All Organizations should review and take a decision on sick leave for employees. These considerations should cover the following:
Employees should be advised to stay at home if they experience any symptoms related to COVID-19 (or any other illness);
Any sick leave should form part of an employee’s annual sick leave allowance, and where this has run out, special COVID-19 leave should be granted;
The Organization should not immediately demand a sick note but should reserve the right to call for proof that the employees was ill or had contracted the COVID–19 virus.
5. All Organizations should review and take a decision on the attendance of conferences, which could cover the following policy decision:
Social distancing and avoiding physical contact are recommended measures to avoid the spread of the disease and following this, employees should be asked use their judgement when attending conferences and large gatherings and avoid crowded areas where possible.
6. All Organizations should review and take a decision on travel, both local and international, which could cover the following policy decisions:
A complete ban on international travel to high-risk areas;
Domestic travel subject to travel restrictions and guidelines;
All work-related domestic travel should be essential, and travel to high-risk areas is prohibited;
As an alternative to travel, employees should be encouraged to make use of virtual meeting technology as much as possible;
Personal travel is discouraged but if employees do travel to high-risk areas, they are required to self-quarantine from home on return for a period of 14 days. After the quarantine period, they are required to be tested by a verified medical practitioner equipped to diagnose COVID-19 and provide us with a medical note before returning to the workplace. The 14-day quarantine period will not count as sick leave but will be considered as annual leave;
If a member of your employees’ household has travelled (in the last two weeks) or will travel, or if they come into contact or close proximity with anyone they know whom has travelled to any of the high-risk areas, they need to declare it and self-quarantine. The 14-day quarantine period will not count as sick leave but will be considered as annual leave;
Emergency plans must be developed and put in place where the Organization is able to isolate anyone in the workplace whom is suspected of having the virus in order to minimise contact with others.
7. Each Organization must develop and implement, with immediate effect, a crisis management policy that is communicated to its key employees and which addresses:
• What has happened;
• What the Organization’s immediate priorities are;
• What steps must be taken to contain the impact of the crisis for the Organization;
• Who the key stakeholders are that must be communicated to (both internal and external).
• What expertise/advice is required to address the crisis;
• Who will have the authority to take immediate decisions with respect to the crisis; and
• Who the Organization’s spokesperson is.
The communications strategy should be carefully managed and executed. External and/or internal communications teams working with legal communication experts are advisable.
8. Key considerations when making decisions on appropriate responses
Below are some key considerations when making decisions on appropriate responses:
Organizations should consider, track, monitor and document infection severity (i.e. number of people who are sick, hospitalization and death rates) in the community where the Organization or its business or operations is located.
Organizations must identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to its employees, clients, contractors and customers. In this regard, Organizations should ask all employees to disclose international travel (to all countries) undertaken by them (or any person who they live with) since 1 February 2020. This may assist the employer with its risk assessment to determine the likelihood of contamination in the workplace.
Organizations, via its Task Team, should monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace, including: considering, tracking, monitoring and documenting the impact of virus on employees that are vulnerable and may be at higher risk for COVID-19 adverse health complications. Inform employees that some people may be at higher risk for severe illness, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions.
Organizations should prepare for possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, dismissals of early childhood programs and schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness.
Organizations must review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing workplace laws.
Plan to minimize exposure between employees and the public, and implement where applicable social distancing policy and procedures.
Organizations must explore whether it can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (i.e. telecommuting) and flexible work hours (i.e. staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others. For employees who are able to telework, supervisors should encourage employees to telework instead of coming into the workplace until symptoms are completely resolved.
Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.
All sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace.
Respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly.
Organizations should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations.
Organizations should implement plans to continue with essential business functions where it is at risk of experiencing higher than usual absenteeism.
Organizations should consider cross-training personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able to operate even if key employee members are absent.
Organizations should assess its essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on its services or products. Be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations if needed).
Organizations with more than one business location are encouraged to provide local managers with the authority to take appropriate actions outlined in their business infectious disease outbreak response plan based on the condition in each locality.
Coordination with local, provincial and governmental health officials is strongly encouraged for all Organizations so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside. Since the intensity of an outbreak may differ according to geographic location, local health officials will be issuing guidance specific to their communities.
Communicate on a regular basis, and share appropriate policies and instructions with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.
Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations. Plan for how your business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or these supply chains are interrupted.
Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the Organization’s infectious disease outbreak response plan, altering business operations (i.e. possibly changing or closing operations in affected areas), and transferring business knowledge to key employees. Work closely with your local health officials to identify these triggers.
Establish a process to communicate information to employees and business partners on your infectious disease outbreak response plans and latest COVID-19 information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.
In some communities, early childhood programs and schools may be dismissed, particularly if COVID-19 worsens. Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes from increases in sick employees, those who stay home to care for sick family members, and those who must stay home to watch their children if dismissed from school. Businesses and other employers should prepare to institute flexible workplace and leave policies for these employees.
Consider cancelling non-essential business travel to high risk countries.
Take note that travel restrictions may be enacted by other countries which may limit the ability of employees to return home if they become sick while on travel status.
Consider cancelling large work-related meetings or events.
8. Each Organization must develop and implement with immediate effect a COVID-19 virus policy that is communicated to its employees and stakeholders.
A policy template with suggested wording is set out below.
INFECTIOUS-DISEASE MANAGEMENT POLICY
The Organization places the highest priority on the health, safety and wellbeing of its people, while protecting the continuity of its operations and essential functions.
Toward that end, and effective immediately, the Organization has implemented an Infectious Disease Policy, which Policy will be revisited regularly and all persons including employees should continue to check this page for updates.
Purpose of the policy
COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide Pandemic.
Furthermore, as at 15 March 2020, our South African Government has declared COVID-19 as a National Disaster.
In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993 (OHSA), the Organization, as a law abiding and ethical employer must and does take steps and related measures to ensure that it provides a work environment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm”.
The Organization, in order to discharge its legal obligations as per the OHSA, has put in place various health, safety and employment policies and procedures.
In light of the COVID-19 Virus, the Organization has seen it fit to implement an additional policy in order to address the specific risks which the Covid-19 virus has presented.
This Policy sets out:
· the Organization’s approach to the COVID-19 virus and how the Organization, its employees and its stakeholders are to act in order to decrease the spread of this acute respiratory illness and lower the impact of the virus in the workplace; and
· the related measures and controls which have been implemented within the Organization’s operations, workplaces and facilities, with immediate effect, in order to address and manage the risks and hazards posed by the COVID-19 virus.
This policy in particular identifies and communicates the Organization’s objectives in relation to its efforts to manage and control the impact posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which efforts are directed at and aim to:
(a) minimise and at best reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus amongst employees and others who may deal with the Organization;
(b) protect those individuals who are at higher risk for adverse health complications;
(c) maintaining business operations; and
(d) minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.
The policy covers all directors and employees of the Organization and all other persons or entities who the Organization or its directors or employees may deal with or who may come in contact with the Organization or its directors or employees.
Workplace safety precautions and Health etiquette
Coughing and sneezing
All persons, when on the Organization’s premises, should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
The Organization will provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees, as well as soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace, which will be placed in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
All persons in the Organization’s spaces must clean their hands often with the provided alcohol-based hand sanitizer or their own sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
The Organization will ensure that it routinely cleans all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs.
The Organization will, for the use by employees, provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Employers should limit face to face interactions and should instead, where possible, communicate with others via conference calls, WebExes or Skype sessions, to help prevent the spread of germs and potential infection.
All employees who can work remotely should prepare to do so now. This will help the Organization be prepared to “scale up” workplace social distancing should it become necessary.
The Organization will inform the community immediately if the decision is made to move to large-scale remote work (in jobs where remote work is possible.)
If large-scale remote work is implemented, those who will continue to work on the Organization’s facilities, because their jobs require it and they are well, will likely be advised to maintain physical distance from others of at least 6 feet. If they have an underlying health condition or concern, they may request a change in job duties, location, hours, etc. by contacting local human resources.
If departments, offices or operations are closed by the Organization or public health authorities due to COVID-19, the Organization will provide affected non-remote employees with alternate work assignments or an emergency-related paid excused absence. If this occurs, the Organization will make commitments to pay continuation for a defined period of time (e.g., 30 days), with review and possible extension as conditions change.
Communal activities at work
Small-scale communal activities can still continue assuming the employee(s) are in a low-risk area, provided that all employees take certain common-sense precautions:
· Don’t share food or beverages;
· Don’t talk over a communal plate of food;
· Don’t sip from anyone else’s glass;
· Don’t hug or touch each other and keep a safe distance from each other, i.e. 6 feet;
Mass transit potentially may increase your risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus, but many employees and other persons are dependent on public transport as their only mode of transport.
The following recommendations should be followed when commuting:
· Avoid close contact with others;
· Cover your mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough or, in the absence of a tissue, sneezing or coughing into the crook of your arm instead of your hand;
· Use a tissue when you hold onto a pole;
· Avoid touching your face before washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, which you should do after getting off your train, bus or taxi.
· Wipe your cellphone and the handles of what you’re carrying with a disinfectant wipe. Then wash your hands again.
Sick or potentially compromised employees and related Sick Leave
Sick employees to take sick leave
Given the highly contagious nature of the COVID-19 virus and the related flu caused by it, sick employees, no matter the cause, must not come to work and instead must stay at home, especially those who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness.
Employees should notify their supervisor by way of a “WhatsApp” or by email or telephone that they are sick and that they as a result will not be coming to work.
Employees with concerns or questions about their illness or seeking advice about whether to come to work are invited to email ……….
Sick employees may only come back to work once they are:
· free of fever (37.8° C / 100.4° F or greater using an oral thermometer);
· free of the signs of a fever and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants); or
· provide proof that they are free of the COVID–19 virus.
Alternatively, employees will have to self-isolate for a period of 14 days.
Any leave taken by an employee as per the above will be considered as sick leave as per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 75 of 1997 (BCEA).
Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19
Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their manager or supervisor.
Furthermore, employees with dependent children, partners, household members, or elders who are ill may elect to take annual leave or family responsibility leave in order to stay at home to take care of these persons.
Employees should notify their supervisor by way of a “WhatsApp” or by email or telephone that they are required to remain at home in order to take care of sick family members and that they as a result will not be coming to work.
If an employee’s family member is confirmed to have COVID-19, the employee should inform
HR immediately using the online notification procedure which information will remain confidential.
Employees with concerns or questions are invited to email ……….
Employees who have elected to stay at home to take care of sick family members may only come back to work once they provide proof that they are free of the COVID-19 virus.
Documenting Sick Time
Employees must ensure that they complete the online absence from work form promptly, or ask that it be done for them using the online notification procedure.
Public health authorities may ask employers to monitor and report trends in employee absenteeism.
This can be done as follows ……….
Employees at High Risk
Employees who are at increased risk for complications from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions are urged to consult their physician about steps they can take to protect their health. These may include requesting a temporary change in job location, hours, assignment or duties, or implementation of additional protective measures to reduce their exposure to others or chances of being infected.
If an employee at risk for complications from COVID-19 and their physician agree that increased social distancing in the workplace is prudent, the employee should contact their manager or supervisor to formally request a temporary change.
Human Resources will confidentially evaluate the request, explore alternatives, and attempt to appropriately address the employee’s health concerns while maintaining the Organization’s operations. A Doctor’s note may be required.
Except for employees who formally request a change in job circumstances due to underlying health conditions, employees will generally not be reassigned to new duties, locations, or roles or be provided with paid sick/release time solely to address concerns about the potential for COVID-19 infection.
Sick employees to be sent home
If an employee presents him or herself in the office, and who in the Organization’s opinion, appears to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) or who presents such symptoms during the day, then in such an event the Organization will isolate said employee, and the employee will thereafter have to make arrangements to be taken home.
The same provisions will apply to any other person who presents him or herself at the Organization’s premises.
Sick leave and ordered self-isolation leave
Employees may use their allocated sick leave, as per the BCEA and as reflected on their leave records, for:
· sick leave taken as per clause … above;
· self-isolation or quarantine, even if they are not sick, when it is required or recommended by public health authorities/guidelines or by health care providers or as per clause … above;
Where the employee has no allocated sick leave remaining, then such matter will be discussed with HR and a decision reached. Each matter in this regard will be determined on its merits and the severity of the case.
Employees may use family responsibility leave or annual leave in the event that:
· they are required to take care for immediate family and household members who have demonstrated flue related symptoms or who are diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus;
· they are required to take care for immediate family and household members who are not ill but need care due to any COVID-19 related closures of schools or daycare centers, or for other breakdowns in care arrangements.
Where the employee has no allocated family, responsibility leave or annual leave remaining then such matter will be discussed with HR and a decision reached. Each matter in this regard will be determined on its merits and the severity of the case.
Self-imposed self-isolation leave
Employees may use annual leave in the event that they have elected to travel for personal reasons and in consequence have been forced to self-isolate for 14 days.
Where the employee has no allocated annual leave remaining then such leave will be unpaid leave.
Employee travel restrictions
In light of the Government imposed ban on local and international travel, no employee will be allowed to travel either domestically or internationally for work purposes, until further notice.
In light of the Government imposed ban on local and international travel, all employees should act responsibly when deciding if they are to travel, either domestically or internationally for personal reasons.
Where the employee elects to travel for personal reasons, he or she must discuss this with HR. The Organization reserves its right in the interests of all concerned, to decline any application for annual leave which may be required for such trip, which decision will be determined on its merits and area where the travel or visit will take place.
Employees may use annual leave in the event that they have elected to travel for personal reasons and in consequence have been forced to self-isolate for 14 days.
Where the employee has no allocated annual leave remaining then such leave will be unpaid leave.
Organization shut down
At this stage, the Organization will not be implementing distancing measures and all employees, save for those who are ill or need to stay at home in order to look after sick family members, as described above, are expected to report for work at their designated work spaces within the Organization’s offices and facilities.
Further communications will however be issued should the Organization decide to implement distancing measures (for example, by reducing the density of its offices and employees in a work space).
Potential Additional Policy Changes
If public health conditions worsen, the Organization reserves the right to amend or adjust its policies on the COVID-19 Virus. This would be done to address the effects of more widespread illness or absences, more frequent needs for self-isolation or quarantine, disruption of care arrangements.
Employees will be notified as necessary of such changes and should also check this page for updates.
Update Your Contacts
Employees with computer/internet access are asked to make sure that personal and emergency contact information is up-to-date. This can be done by following the instruction below: ……..
Consequences of non-conformance to Policy
Anyone not complying with the Organization’s policy or process will be dealt with in accordance with the Organization’s disciplinary process, which depending on the severity of the transgression may result in dismissal or possible criminal investigation and/or charges.
Covid-19 has been declared a national disaster in SA – here’s what that means
Most major universities across the country have suspended classes with immediate effect.
Details of the economic package and other measures are due to be announced by cabinet ministers, but Ramaphosa announced broad-strokes measures that include:
· Gatherings of more than 100 people have been prohibited.
· Schools will be closed from Wednesday, 18 March, and remain closed until after Easter weekend.
· All visits to South African prisons have been banned for 30 days.
· 35 of South Africa’s land ports of entry – two thirds of the total – will be shut down, and two of the eight sea ports will not accept passengers or crews rotating off ships.
Here are all the border post South Africa is closing to combat Covid-19
South Africans have been advised to avoid travelling, even domestically, wherever possible, and Ramaphosa called on businesses and shopping malls to ramp up hygiene measures.
The government is talking to universities, Ramaphosa said, and is identifying isolation and quarantine sites throughout the country.
For more information direct from the source, see also:
the National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD)
the latest statements issued by the national government
the Twitter stream of health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize
the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 outbreak page
Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Persons with Potential Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Exposure in Travel-associated or Community Settings
Health Alert Network
Travelers’ Health Website