The effects of the coronavirus on all businesses, big and small are experienced not only here in South Africa, but also worldwide. Employers are faced with situations that no one could have foreseen or have prepared for. Employers are forced to adapt, change and in some instances, even shut-down permanently due to the unfortunate situation they find themselves in.
Many employers were forced to close their offices during the lockdown and requested that employees work from home where possible, in an attempt to salvage their businesses. Not all employers, however, are fortunate enough to have the option to request that their employees work from home, as operations simply don’t allow employees to work remotely. As a result, those employers are unable to generate an income and unable to pay their employees a salary during lockdown. Some employers are in a position to be able to assist their employees with salaries for the period of lockdown to some degree or another. Regardless of the circumstances, frequent communication between employer and employees is encouraged.
With at least two weeks of lockdown remaining, what should employers be communicating with their employees?
Communication between employers and employees is imperative during this time. Information can be sent via WhatsApp, SMS, e-mail, etc. If employees do not know or understand the employer’s position, this will create uncertainty, confusion and in some instances, negativity. Employers should communicate with their employees throughout the lockdown, especially now considering the lockdown has been extended.
What should employers communicate to their employees?
- Although everyone knows there is a lockdown, refer to the extended dates and date of expected return to the workplace if the lockdown is not extended beyond the current end date;
- Keep to the facts, try and communicate the employer’s position as truthfully as possible, without creating unnecessary panic. Do not create an opportunity for employees to speculate and to create and spread rumours. Help them fully understand what is going on with the business. If the employer does not anticipate commencing operations on 4 May, advise the employees timeously;
- Explain to employees what is expected of them during this time, if they are working remotely. Employees should be given clear and unambiguous instructions relating to the duties which they are expected to continue performing;
- Explain to employees how the lockdown may affect the company and whether possible terminations or re-negotiations of salaries are anticipated. Let employees know whether their positions are safe and if they will receive their salary at the end of each month? What are their options if the employer is unable to pay the employees? What will be expected of employees upon returning back to the office after lockdown? Will they be protected from possible future infections at the workplace, and is the employer compliant with all regulations regarding the establishment of a safe working environment? (We will go into detail regarding these concerns below.) These are all questions which should be addressed.
- Explain communication methods. Who the employees should communicate with during this time. Who should be contacted during the lockdown, specify whether they still contact their direct manager or perhaps a designated person at HR. Remind them of the numbers, e-mail addresses to be used even if it seems excessive, it stops confusion and creates an atmosphere of clarity and care from the employer.
- If the employer has agreed to pay salaries for the period of initial lockdown, communicate whether they are able to pay the employees their full salary for the month of April or beyond. The employer should communicate that the claim for financial assistance through the TERS may not cover the employees’ full salary and that in accordance with the COVID-19 TERS scheme, employers are only permitted to claim a prescribed maximum amount (R 17 712.00 per employee per month and the amount paid to each employee will be determined on a sliding scale (between 38% – 60%) with the minimum amount being R 3,500). When referring to the question of financial support for employees during the lockdown, the employer has various options available that will assist the employees financially during this period. This is explained in detail in our Memo “Guide for Employers during COVID-19: Which Scheme should I use?” dated 03 April 2020 which can be accessed on the following link: https://ceosa.org.za/guide-for-employers-during-covid-19-which-scheme-should-i-use/;
- If the employer intends forcing the employees to take annual leave during this time, the number of days leave available to various employees should be communicated to the employees. Remember that it should not be necessary for an employer to force their employees to take annual leave as the employer can use the above relief schemes.
- It is advisable that the employer also agrees to what will happen to the employee’s annual leave during the December close of business in this leave agreement discussed above. The employer could for example credit the employee with annual leave days for December 2020 and parties then agree in writing that should the employee resign prior to the total number of leave days being debited in full, the difference in the annual leave days will be deducted from the employee’s last salary.
- Employers also have the possibility of placing employees on short time, paying them for the hours worked and claiming the difference in salary from COVID-19 TERS or UIF. It is important that employers communicate this with employees and come to an agreement regarding short time, before implementing this.
It is always important to remember where an agreement between the employer and employee is reached, it should be put in writing. If the employee is unable to print and sign documents, an SMS, WhatsApp or E-mail confirming the content of the agreement will suffice.
In the end, it is important to remember that communication from the employer is imperative and will create a trusting relationship between employer and employee.