South African employees can refuse to work over fears of the coronavirus – what you need to know

Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi has provided clarity on employees who refuse to work due to a reasonable fear of exposure to Covid-19.

In a directive published on Thursday (4 June), Nxesi indicated that “an employee may refuse to perform any work if circumstances arise which with reasonable justification appear to that employee or to a health and safety representative to pose an imminent and serious risk of their exposure to Covid-19.”

In these instances, an employee who has refused to perform work must, as soon as is reasonably practicable, notify the employer either personally or through a health and safety representative of the refusal, and the reason for their refusal.

“Every employer must, after consultation with the compliance officer and any health and safety committee, endeavour to resolve any issue that may arise from the exercise of the right,” the directive reads.

It notes that this right of refusal applies whether or not the person refusing to work has used or exhausted any other applicable external or internal procedures.

Other key points of the clause include:

  • No person may advantage or promise to advantage any person for not exercising his or her right in terms of the above clause;
  • No person may threaten to take any action against an employee because that person has exercised or intends to exercise the above right;
  • No employee may be dismissed, disciplined, prejudiced or harassed for refusing to perform any work inline with the above;
  • If there is a dispute, the employee may refer the dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration or an accredited bargaining council for conciliation and arbitration.

You can read the full directive below.

Read: New lockdown rules for South African businesses and workers

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South African employees can refuse to work over fears of the coronavirus – what you need to know