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Employers' responsibility and the Covid-19 vaccine situation in SA

South Africa has experienced two waves of Covid-19 pandemic with a third one possibly happening in this coming winter.
© August de Richelieu –
© August de Richelieu –

The infection rates seem more significantly widespread and highly infectious with a new variant compared to early and mid-2020. Until recently the only way to stop and slow down the spread of the pandemic was to stop all social and economic activities globally for an indefinite period while research for a cure or vaccine was being done. Although South Africa is currently in level one of lockdown, the previous levels and period of lockdown has since resulted in massive disruption in businesses, which will take years to recover, if at all. The disturbance has led to permanent shut down of many businesses, which were not resilient to financial losses and socio-economic disruptions. To avert the situation, many companies tried to cope by adopting the work-from-home' concept, thus trying to run offices and administration jobs remotely.

Exposure to the virus can occur at the workplace, while travelling to work, during field work as well as on the way to and from the workplace. The risk of contracting Covid-19 in the workplace depends on the likelihood of coming in close contact with or having frequent physical contact with colleagues infected with Covid-19, as well as through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects. It is of outmost importance to minimise the risk of exposure in the workplace as it is a central point and likely a super spread site as we have people coming from all corners having greater chances of coming into contact. Exposure risk varies from low to high and these ranging with telesales personnel having minimal risk while transporting people and medical care have the highest risk.

In response to Covid-19 pandemic, global efforts have successfully developed advanced quicker means of testing for the virus and developed vaccines. The South African government publicised its Covid-19 vaccine roll-out plan on 7 January 2021. The plan has been effectively executed with over 100,000 health workers vaccinated first before those who have lower infection risk. In businesses where it has been impossible to do remote working, employers may introduce workplace policies which formalise mandatory testing and vaccination to restore operations to normalcy. Some employers may also wish to consider the introduction of workplace policies requiring mandatory vaccination as a precondition for ongoing employment.

Considering the impact of Covid-19 on employers and employees in the private sphere, the prospect of early vaccination is particularly attractive. However, the subject of compulsory vaccinations is argumentative and there are significant legal and moral facets that must be considered. There is lack of legislation that requires vaccinations, employers will need to do detailed analysis in assessing the risk of requiring their employees to be mandatorily vaccinated. Any mandatory vaccination policy could violate section 12 of South Africa's Constitution, together with section 187(1)(f) of the Labour Relations Act of 1995, which guarantees everyone the right to employment equity and bodily integrity.

In conclusion, considering all the above it is more effective for employers to educate and share as much information as possible about the Covid-19 vaccines with their employees. They should encourage them to be vaccinated and take responsibility for the health and safety of their employees, rather than making it a mandatory employment requirement. Instead it has to be mandated that employers make Covid-19 vaccine information and actual vaccination a part of their employee wellness programmes. This will help ensure a healthy workforce, as well as reduce absenteeism due to illness. Employers can also paste information posters on advantages of vaccine and also vaccination centres in and around their workplace.

About Accurate Agent Group

Accurate Agent Group is a leading management and financial planning consultancy firm based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Accurate Agent Group specialises in business strategies, business rescue, funding solutions, financial management, supply chain management, HR and payroll, tax advisory, executive development and wealth planning for businesses and individuals.

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Read more: Covid-19, vaccine

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