In recent weeks, the burning issue has been whether employees who do not test negative for the COVID 19 disease will be permitted to return to the workplace.  The conundrum has been created by a crafty confusion of terminology and media mongering.  “To not test negative” as the Chief Inspector of the Department of Employment and Labour Mr Tibor Szana asserts, literally means that an employee tests, or is positive for the COVID 19 disease.


Therefore after a process of linguistic interpretation and elimination, Consolidated Employers Organisation can advise its members that employees who “do not test negative” or as we know test positive for the COVID 19 disease can return to work after complying with the following strict guidelines:


  1. In accordance with Department of Health guidelines, the employee in question must comply with the mandatory 14 days of self-isolation.
  2. The employee must undergo a fitness test if the employee has exhibited “moderate or severe illness” in relation to COVID 19. It is noteworthy that the Department of Employment and Labour is silent on who bears the costs of a medical fitness test.
  3. It is the employer’s obligation to ensure that employees wear masks, social distancing is observed as well as the appropriate “cough etiquette.”
  4. Employers must monitor and keep a record of employee symptoms upon returning to work.
  5. The employee will be required to wear a surgical mask for 21 days from the date of diagnosis.


The Department of Employment and Labour also maintains that an employee’s presence must be evaluated according to the risk of exposure that they pose in the workplace.  If an employee has a high risk of exposure to other co-employees and members of the public, then that employee must be placed on sick leave and remain in quarantine for a period of 14 days from first contact.


It is inevitable that in time to come that our workplaces will be populated by employees who have tested or are positive for the COVID 19 disease.  Work must go on, and employers must avoid perpetuating social stigmatisation.  Therefore, employers are urged to accommodate employees regardless of their illness while ensuring that the remainder of the workplace is kept safe.  This is a sensitive balancing act, and that’s why CEO is here by your side to help you navigate this difficult terrain.


Article by: Shakti Jainarain

Senior Dispute Resolution Official – KZN