Vulnerable employees and COVID-19

Two groups of people who are at higher risk of contracting severe COVID-19, and are considered vulnerable employees are –
- People over the age of 60; and
- persons with underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer.

Employers need to consider how to accommodate vulnerable employees in the workplace, probably through all the stages of lockdown.

Vulnerable employees are not prohibited from returning to work. 

However there are guiding principles to employers on how to safeguard the health and safety of vulnerable employees.

Working from home:

Employers should, as far as possible, continue using the model of remote working particularly for vulnerable employees despite the lockdown level.  The employer should take reasonable steps to enable such employees to work remotely.

Special measures
Special measures are not specified, and should be made on a case-by-case basis. Employers must ensure that they –

- keep a list of all vulnerable employees in terms of its COVID-ready Workplace PLan.
- conduct appropriate risk assessment processes and ensure that vulnerable employees are not subject to any form of discrimination or victimisation in that process; and
- implement special measures for vulnerable employees.

The special measures are those that ultimately promote physical distancing of vulnerable employees and other employees. In considering what measures to implement, consider vulnerable employees on an individual basis and where possible take advice from medical practitioners.  These measures can include, but are not limited to:

- separation from other employees.
- reduced/alternative working hours.
- additional personal protective equipment.
- exclusive entrances/exits/ablution facilities, etc

If, upon assessing the risk, an employer determines that there are no special measures that can be taken to make the workplace safe for a particular vulnerable employee, who is also unable to work from home, the employer will need to consult with the person to reach agreement on an alternative arrangement. If the employee is to remain at home, but not work, the no-work-no-pay principle applies. 

Obviously the usual measures of sanitising, hand washing, masks and social distancing still applies.

Alternative measures can include –

- reassigning vulnerable employees to lower risk positions for a temporary period.
- awarding special paid leave.
- requiring employees to take annual leave; or
- reducing pay or adjusting the pay model.

Where the employer wants to change terms and conditions of employment, like the measures mentioned above, such changes may only be made by agreement between the employer and employee.  Where the no-work-no-pay principle applies obtaining employee agreement will likely not be an issue.

Should the employee not wish to participate in these initiatives voluntarily and insist on going into the workplace despite the employer’s risk assessment, the vulnerable employee be requested to sign a declaration that he/she has been informed of the fact that he/she is vulnerable and that he/she refused to enter into discussions regarding alternatives to employment or measures that would address the vulnerability.

Mark - 04:43 @ common, Industrial Relations, Human Resources, B-BBEE