There has been a lot of confusion over labour issues arising from the COVID-19 lockdown.
The question has been raised whether employees who have been told to stay at home and cannot work remotely are entitled to be paid and also whether employers can make employees take paid annual leave.
The labour legislation still applies, specifically the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and Labour Relations Act.
In essence, a wage or salary is only paid in return for hours worked, so if the hours are not worked there would be no legal obligation for an employer to pay a wage or salary. However, the Department of Labour and Employment has requested employers to pay their employees while on lockdown if they possibly can, or at least try to make up the difference between payments from the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the actual wage or salary.
As far as forced annual leave is concerned, if there is no contractual agreement on the issue of annual leave, the employer is entitled to decide when paid leave must be taken by an employee based on its operational requirements. If no paid annual leave is outstanding, employees must take unpaid leave.
Many employers have chosen to structure payment, composed of different elements, as a solution to assist and help protect employees who cannot work during the lockdown. Employees who are expected to work because they perform an essential service must be paid their normal wages or salaries.
Employers need to deal with these issues during the lockdown in a responsible, compassionate and humane manner based on their own circumstances and abilities. The time is now for employers to show that their employees are indeed their most valuable asset.