Here’s what rights employees have if employers violate COVID regulations

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Fighting the coronavirus requires the input and assistance of everyone. From wearing a mask and sanitising, it is individual actions that will help. But within the workplace, employers have certain responsibilities to ensure their employees are kept safe. What happens when employers violate the rights and regulations. 

Lebogang George, a lawyer at Tumbo Scott Inc. explains what rights employees have in the workplace.  

Employers who are not adhering can be reported to the Department of Labour and Employment Occupational Health & Safety Act.  

What options do employees have if their employers aren’t following coronavirus protocols in the workplace? 

Employees can first exhaust internal processes. They can approach HR and challenge the labour laws and occupational health regulations as well as the HR policies. If they are unsuccessful they can send an anonymous tip/complaint to the department of employment and labour. Non-compliance with Covid regulations is a criminal offence and a case can be opened with the South African Police Service (SAPS). An employer who is found not to be complying with occupational health and safety (OHS) Act standards, and not adhering to Covid-19 regulations can be shut down. The employer will be given a prohibition notice and will remain closed until measures in line with Covid-19 guidelines from the Department of Health are put in place.

Should employees approach their employers, the HR division or is there a government department that can assist? 

They can approach the department of employment and labour and/or SAPS. If an employer isn’t following the rules, but an employee doesn’t want to raise the issue because of fear of getting fired, they can send an anonymous tip/complaint to the department and/or SAPS.

What options do employees have for forming support groups to help each other be heard? 

Employees are stronger in numbers and would be helpful to form a support group to also air out their grievances. They have a better chance of being heard. Support groups also help employees to be each other’s support structure and share experiences. 

Do the options differ for employees in formal office work and less formal field work like construction perhaps? 

The options are the same as long as employees come together for a common goal and purpose and use the support groups to lean on one another and educate one another about Covid.

Lastly, has the South African government released any rules/regulations that specifically protect employees from backlash for speaking out especially during COVID-19? 

Gazette 43400 of 4 June 2020 provides those regulations. (https://www.gov.za/documents/disaster-management-act-direction-minister-employment-and-labour-terms-regulation-4-10) 

Image by thedarknut from Pixabay

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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