All South African employees must wear masks at work: labour minister

 ·3 May 2020

With a number of workers set to return to work from Monday under level 4 of lockdown, the Labour Department has drafted the minimum guidelines for employers to ensure the workplace is safe for returning employees.

These guidelines come as government gradually reopens the economy under level 4 of lockdown while ensuring that the spread of Covid-19 is contained.

Under these guidelines, returning employees must wear masks at work. Employers must also require members of the public entering a workplace to wear masks.

Employers must provide each employee, free of charge, with at least two cloth masks to wear while at work or commuting.

Employees with Covid-19 symptoms must not be at work and employers must grant paid sick leave or apply for Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS) benefits.

Employers must further appoint a manager from within the existing structure to address the concerns of employees and workplace representatives.

“They must take measures to minimise the contact between workers and between workers and the public to prevent transmission.

“They must minimise the number of workers in the workplace at any time through shift or working arrangements to achieve social distancing,” said Labour minister Thulas Nxesi.

The guidelines also require the employer to provide employees with information concerning Covid-19 and how to prevent its transmission.

Employers are also required to report any diagnosis of Covid-19 at work to the Health Department and the Labour Department of Employment and, investigate the cause, and take appropriate measures.

“It is a contravention not to do so as an employer. They must support any contact tracing measures initiated by the Department of Health,” said the minister.

While Monday is expected to mark the return of several industries to work, the department stressed that businesses that are reopening must put these measures in place before employees restart.

Social distancing

With regard to social distancing, workplaces must be arranged to ensure a minimum of 1.5 meters between workers.

If this is not practicable, physical barriers must be erected and workers must be supplied free of charge with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Social distancing must be implemented in all common areas in and around the workplace to prevent crowding, including working spaces, canteens and meeting rooms.


In relation to screening, employers must screen workers for symptoms of Covid-19 at the time that they report for work.

“Workers should immediately inform the employer if they experience any symptoms while at work. Not doing so is a contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Act by the worker. More importantly, the worker puts themselves – and their co-workers – at risk,” said Nxesi.

Workers with symptoms must be placed in isolation and arrangements made for their safe transport for a medical examination or for self-isolation.

Employees who recover from Covid-19 may return to work after a medical evaluation and subject to ongoing monitoring, in line with instructions of the Department of Health.

Sanitisers and disinfectants

Employers are also required to provide sufficient quantities of hand sanitiser with at least 70% alcohol content. Communal and shared equipment must be regularly cleaned and disinfected.

Enforcement by labour inspectors

In relation to enforcement, labour inspectors are empowered to promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the directives. Failure to comply with the directives may result in the closure of contravening businesses.

Investigation and Enforcement Services

During the lockdown, labour inspectors carried out some 2 226 inspections. This includes public sector premises and 86 health facilities. The rate of compliance by employers has increased from 50% to over 60% over the period of the lockdown.

The department said it is looking to employ an additional 500 inspectors to meet the demands of the pandemic.

“It would be impossible to inspect every one of the 1.8 million businesses. Therefore, inspectors rely upon the support of individual workers, unions and socially responsible employers in providing vital information – which in turn allows the Inspectors to focus on hotspots and to make an example of particular offenders. In turn, this leads to greater self-regulation and compliance,” said the minister.

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