The Department of Employment & Labour recently published a Code of Good Practice for managing exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The Code will take effect on the date that the Declaration of a National State of Disaster lapses and is aimed at providing guidance to employers on conducting or updating their risk assessments and developing a plan to limit infection and transmission, and to mitigate the risks of serious illness or death on the basis of that risk assessment. All employers are required to conduct risk assessments, irrespective of whether they require mandatory vaccination. This is based on the fact that COVID-19 is classified as a hazardous biological agent in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which requires employers to mitigate risks related to this hazard.
Of particular interest is that under Clause 8 of the Code, every employer must now take measures to find out the vaccination status of their employees. If an employer implements a mandatory vaccination policy and an employee refuses to be vaccinated, the employer must counsel the employee and, if requested, allow the employee to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, worker representative or a trade union official. If the employee still refuses to be vaccinated, then reasonable steps should be taken to accommodate the employee in a position that does not require the employee to be vaccinated. If an employee produces a medical certificate confirming that, for medical reasons, they are unable to be vaccinated, the employer may refer the employee for a medical evaluation for confirmation of such. If the employer accepts the medical certificate, it must accommodate the employee in a position that does not require the employee to be vaccinated. Whilst the previous direction makes provision for an employee refusing to be vaccinated based on their right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion, this Code makes no provision for this.
In addition to the above, the Code also confirms what was included in previous directives around the wearing of face masks, social distancing, and symptom screening in the workplace.
This code is intended to continue the measures set out in the directions published in terms of the Disaster Management Act once the state of disaster is finally ended. In addition to this, government has tabled draft regulations in terms of the National Health Act to further manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the measures proposed in these regulations include:
All people entering or exiting South Africa during pandemics should present negative PCR tests not older than 72 hours if they do not have a vaccination certificate.
Continued restrictions will be placed on night vigils and after-funeral gatherings, and large gatherings considered to be super-spreader events.
Indoor and outdoor gatherings may be occupied up to 50% of the venue capacity, provided valid vaccine certificates are produced. For gatherings where no valid vaccine certificates are required, artificial limits of 1,000 and 2,000 people will apply for indoor and outdoor gatherings, respectively.
Social distancing of one meter must be maintained.
Face masks will be compulsory for indoor gatherings, and people cannot enter public premises or make use of public transport without a mask.
The regulations also allow for ‘advice giving’ restrictions. This advice can relate to curfew, national lockdown, economic activity, and the sale of alcohol.
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