The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with our routines. While some people have been able to carry on working remotely, others have not been so lucky, being forced to stay home as their companies shut down. For those fortunate enough to have jobs to go back to as the restrictions have lifted, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder how the weeks or months away have affected your annual leave. The Tower Group unpack the regulations for you.
When the lockdown was first announced at the end of March, the Department of Employment and Labour issued a statement which declared the following:
“During the lockdown period, an employee may be requested by the employer to take annual leave from his/her annual leave credits. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) allows employers to determine the time that employees can take their annual leave.”
This essentially left the matter of leave during the COVID-19 crisis to the discretion of employers.
You can read more COVID-19-related HR insights in our blog.
Companies Encouraged Not to Require the Use of Leave Credits
The government regulations may not have made any demands on employers one way or the other when it comes to leave, but the Department of Employment and Labour appealed to businesses not to demand that their employees take their leave, and offered incentives for them not to.
“In as much as employers are within their rights to insist that employees take annual leave during the lockdown, as the Department, we encourage employers not to request employees to utilise their annual leave credits for the lockdown, but to rather utilise the financial assistance that the department has placed at their disposal through the COVID-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) in cases where companies cannot afford to pay employees,” the Department’s Chief Director of Labour Relations, Thembinkosi Mkalipi said.
Leave during the crisis has thus become a matter of negotiation between employers and employees. If employers have demanded that staff take leave during the lockdown, this would mean that everyone will have depleted their annual allowance and have ended up taking many days’ worth of unpaid leave. On the other hand, if employers have given their workers leeway and continued to pay them throughout the lockdown while not deducting any leave days, this would leave them with a heavy salary bill for months of unproductive time.
It is not an easy situation for either party, and the neutral position that government has taken leaves it up to business owners and workers to reach some kind of workable agreement that doesn’t take too an unreasonable a toll.
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