The Globe is on lockdown at the moment as we all face the pandemic that is Covid-19 and it’s a time that is creating a lot of fear, anxiety and uncertainty in the workplace, not just with people now having to work remotely from home, but for those who have pursued new job opportunities and received job offers to start during or after lockdown,  and now face a highly unnerving state of anxiety about if they will start or not or if their offers will be withdrawn or if they should even hand in their resignations.

It is not a good space to be in, and there are many people facing the same dilemma. There is good news though, because in times like these, companies can adjust their approaches and still take on new hires smoothly and effectively, enhancing their workforce and allowing them to be ready with new strategies and operating plans for when things return to normal.

There is a lot of fear around existing new job offers being withdrawn by Employers and the new Employee being left without a job having handed in their resignation, in light of the new opportunity. That is a scary thought, being stranded without a job in an already challenging economy while Covid-19 is ‘messing’ with the normal way of life too.

However, this doesn’t need to be a fear in people’s lives because in South Africa, the withdrawal of an offer that has been signed and accepted by a new employee, constitutes an unfair dismissal, according to the LRA in conjunction with the CCMA. The law states that “once an employer has made a legally binding offer of employment to an employee and the employee has accepted the offer, the employer is obliged to honour the contract and can no longer unilaterally revoke the offer.”

So, even during challenging times like the ones we are faced with now, people need to know that their new jobs are safe, and their offers can not be withdrawn. ‘Companies now need to make the necessary arrangements and changes to their infrastructures and resources that will allow you to start your new job on the dates stipulated.’ [Chantelle Smith]

Most people now have access to technology at home, laptops and Wi-Fi, and still have the ability to communicate and network with people during this time. ‘People now have a lot more ‘free time’ to get onto social media platforms and portals like LinkedIn and other networks, allowing them to connect with key decision makers, new clients and prospects, do market research and start building new pipelines and opportunities that can be adequately pursued when the lockdown is lifted.’ [Chantelle Smith]

What happens when lockdown isn’t lifted but it’s extended after the 17th of April?

This is a question that is on everyone’s minds, from Managers and CEO’s to Sales Teams and Marketing Professionals, IT and Tech Professionals alike.

The only reason lockdown would be extended [logically] is if the curve of the infection rates in SA are not declining but rather going up and the existing lockdown has proven unsuccessful with new infections arising. Reasons for this could be the result of staff returning to work – domestic workers, general labourers, office staff etc. – being infected with Covid-19 and not knowing it, people becoming symptomatic post-lockdown and the dwindling of hygiene practices that have now become the norm for us.

Countries like the UK, Italy, Spain and others are on indefinite lockdown, staff being put on to furlough (getting paid a percentage of their salaries for 3 months, including self-employed people) by the governments, some being retrenched, and it’s creating utter turmoil.

So how do South African Employees maintain their optimism, motivation and stay in touch with the job market while all of this is happening and the uncertainty in a turbulent economy rises?

One of the first things that South African Employees need to do is to start making a mind shift. We often find that employees see their positions in a company as a ‘job’ and that they are there each day to bring their salary home at the end of the month. This mentality is not incorrect, however, Employees need to realise that they play a vital role in their company and they should use this time to see what they could be doing [or doing better] to help keep the company they are working for going.

Many Employees do not know the power they have to advise and suggest improvements to those above them. Employees are the ‘feet on the ground’ and are often client-facing, therefore, they have firsthand access to what is missing in terms of service offerings as well as what is missing in the economy and how the company might be able to generate new income by offering a specific product or service the economy needs.

If employers take advantage of this time and use their employee’s knowledge this could be very beneficial. However not all employees feel that they could approach their superiors with these ideas, or some are just too shy to do so. The time is now for Employers to be open to advise and suggestions and see how they can utilise the knowledge of their staff. “When Employers listen to the Employees suggestion the Employers will provide the Employee with a sense of accomplishment as well as a sense of purpose, which will keep them motivated and help them through these uncertain times.” [Giselle Rentsch]

Employees also need to take on the responsibility for their own mental health during this time to help them stay motivated and have optimism about the situation. Use this time to learn a new skill, upskill your yourself by adding to your existing skills, update your cv, improve your social network platforms, and make yourself more ‘job market appealing’ are just a few suggestions.

“Recruitment Specialists are always working, even during the current pandemic and that means that you are always being ‘hunted’ in the market. Take this time to update your LinkedIn profiles, rejuvenate your CV to make it appealing and stand out from the crowd, but ultimately, take the time to re-evaluate what you want from your career – is your current job what makes you get up and go in the mornings, or is there actually something else you would like to be doing or how can you change your role to make it your reason?” [Chantelle Smith]

Employee’s rights during the COVID-19 lockdown and Government provisions

It is important for employees to stay up to date with what they, as employees, can do to protect themselves in this situation. The Government has done as much as they can to provide the support the country needs during this time by setting up various schemes for those who are affected financially by the Pandemic. The Government has pleaded with employers to retain their staff as much as possible and there are schemes for employer to use to assist them however, in the cases where employers can’t do so employees will need to prepare.

The COVID-19 pandemic does not allow that the BCEA to be overwritten or suspended especially not by anything the President might have said and therefore the employees’ rights prescribed in the BCEA, especially regarding leave, cannot be overwritten by employers during this time. Employers do have the right to force employees to take annual leave during this time. Thembinkosi Mkalipi, the Chief Director of Labour Relations from the Department of Employment and Labour said “In as much as employers are within their rights to insist that employees take annual leave during the lockdown, as the Department, we encourage employers not to request employees to utilise their annual leave credits for the lockdown, but to rather utilise the financial assistance that the department has placed at their disposal through the COVID-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) in cases where companies cannot afford to pay employees”. Unfortunately, not all businesses, especially small businesses can continue to pay employees during this time which has resulted in employers having to grant this period during the lockdown as either unpaid leave or temporary suspension.

Employers may, at the end of the lockdown, find that they need to retrench people, and this is a scary thought for many employees. A retrenchment is considered as a dismissal, but it is not as a fault of an employee but rather as a result of “operational requirements”. “Operational requirements” is defined as requirements based on the economic, technological, structural or similar needs of the employer. One thing that must be remembered is that before retrenchments can take place the employer has to adhere to the procedure set out in the Labour Relations Act of 1995. Some of the procedure they must do is first they have to show that they have not looked at the alternatives to retrenchments such as:

  1. Reduction of overtime
  2. Transfer employees to other operations or departments (if possible)
  3. Allowing employees to work on short time and/or share workload
  4. Reduce the employment of casual worked
  5. Granting unpaid leave beyond the normal annual leave provisions (which companies are currently doing)
  6. Any other appropriate alternatives (e.g. could be demotion)

It is important to note that employers cannot implement transfers, short time and reduction of overtime unilaterally, they do need to discuss this with you before it is implemented, especially it is not specified in your employment contract.

Another concern for employees is that should they contract the Covid-19 virus can they dismissed.

No, a company should not be able to dismiss you. In order for a company to dismiss you due to you falling ill it would fall into a dismissal due to incapacity and the company will have to prove that you are incapable of doing you job on a long term basis, (not only the time you have the virus). It is important that the employee still provides the company with a sick note which is legally required if you will not be working for more than 2 consecutive days due to illness. Should you have enough sick leave available to you then the employer will have to grant you the sick leave during this time