To leave or not to leave, that is the big question during the COVID-19 pandemic

As the country continues under Level 4 of lockdown into the future, one question that has to be faced and dealt with urgently is how employees and employers should treat the next month when there will be limited hours of work, and in other places no work at all.

We have seen and heard of companies advising employees to take leave during the first two lockdown periods – which collectively account for 35 days of which 23 are work-days. As expected, most companies asked employees to take paid leave during this period of lockdown. In South Africa, the average employee accumulates about 21 days of paid leave a year or per cycle. However, the lockdown was introduced very close to the Easter break. Humanly speaking, employees have already used up some of the leave days due to them.
Given that employees accumulate leave days based on the number of days worked and given the lockdown extension in April by 14 days, and this week by an infinite day, the big question is how employers should treat this current reality.

As expected, several employers have allowed employees to “borrow” leave days, whilst others have started instituting forced and unpaid leave. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act is clear on how to deal with both under normal working environment. However, South Africa is currently in uncharted waters. Therefore, the workers forced into unpaid leave, have reprieve through accessing the UIF.
Forced or unpaid leave is a cost consideration for companies but should be weighed versus staff moral and loyalty. Therefore, it is important for the companies to strike a good balance when implementing these measures because they come with some sort of human cost – low morale which can be detrimental to productivity.

For employees, these tough times also call for flexibility in being willing to explore the various options implemented by government to cover shortfalls in salaries and benefits.
At the end of the day, if a business is not the essential service provider, considerations should be made between financial sustainability versus employee lives. As the President Ramaphosa said, we all need to be compassionate during this time. Afterall, the company needs to continue operating beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and to do that staff should be available, healthy and in good spirit because they felt fairly treated during the pandemic.


Lungile Mtiya & Associates is based in Sandton with branches in number of major cities throughout South Africa. We provide a one-stop Human Resources and Labour Relations services to clients. Lungile Mtiya & Associates is a level 1 B-BBEE rating service provider. We have strategic partnerships with number of other organizations, and a pool of associates offering and exposing clients to the best advice and services in labour relations and the human resources field.

For our services enquiries contact us on 011 100 5099 or 072 621 0550

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