A recent SAMED member meeting addressed Mandatory Vaccine Workplace Policies.

The South African constitution provides that everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, and opinion; and has the right to bodily integrity. However, these rights are subject to a clause on serious risk to public health and limitations should accommodating these result in undue hardship for the employer.

You could provide for voluntary vaccination within your workplace policy and instruct unvaccinated employees to continue to work from home until herd immunity is achieved. Employees who opt not to get vaccinated cannot be discriminated against.

Alternatively, you could make vaccination and returning to the workplace mandatory and decide to consider dismissal (incapacity/operational requirements). This is only permissible if not being vaccinated can result in a serious risk to public health such as in labour-intensive workplaces (e.g. factories, call centres) or serving members of the public (e.g. working in hospitals). This option does not apply to employees with no contact with the public, and little contact with co-workers.

Should a hospital make vaccination a mandatory entry requirement for company representatives, the employers would need to consider if the employee who does not want to be vaccinated can be accommodated (if another representative can go there on their behalf, or if remote support/sales calls can be instituted) or if this leaves the employee unable to fulfil their duties.

Overall, dismissal should be a last resort.

For workplace acquired COVID-19, every company should have an annexure E plan which details the approach to these cases and the steps to limit further exposure. You must undertake contact tracing and report this to the NICD (cov@nicd.ac.za).

Any occupational illness that results in 14 or more days absence must be reported to the Department of Employment using form W.Cl.1 cf-info@labour.gov.za. Occupationally acquired COVID-19 must be reported to and costs thereof can be claimed from the Compensation Fund, through the CompEasy system.