- Mandatory vaccine policies may be implemented as vaccines become widely available, but workers can’t be dismissed for refusing to take the jab.
- But, you’ll have to present a valid reason why you should be excluded from your company’s vaccine drive.
- There are three main reasons employees can ask not to be vaccinated: religious, medical, and cultural beliefs.
- Employers can accommodate workers who reject the jab by finding alternative roles that don’t pose Covid risks.
- For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
With South Africa’s vaccination drive well underway, the focus has now turned to large companies who have been ramping up their efforts to vaccinate their employees – and may be considering mandatory vaccination policies.
Some companies have already started administering the jab to employees, such as mining firm Impala, which is currently prioritising workers aged 40 and above living with co-morbidities.
Retailer Shoprite earlier in the year also said it would like to see its frontline cashiers prioritised, and has applied for vaccine sites to help the government get as many jabs as possible to the population.
At a recent Nedlac meeting, the government and private sector agreed on vaccine guidelines for the workplace. The policies, which are yet to be signed and gazetted by labour minister Thulas Nxesi, holds that workers should not be dismissed for refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
Reasons workers can refuse to take the Covid-19 jab
While employers cannot dismiss workers for refusal to accept the Covid-19 vaccine, employees will have to present valid reasons why they need to be exempt from being vaccinated. Otherwise, companies may have to find alternative plans for workers who choose not to receive their jabs.
Riola Kok, a professional support lawyer at law firm CDH in the employment practice, said, although mandatory vaccination policies may not be possible currently because of limited vaccine availability in the country, companies will begin to seriously consider it once availability becomes more prevalent.
Workers can request to be excluded from vaccine programmes for three main reasons: religious, medical, and cultural beliefs.
Religious grounds could include objections to the substances contained in the vaccine, contrary to religious beliefs such as swine (products) in the Muslim and Jewish communities, Kok says.
Workers who have cultural reasons can also opt-out, and those with medical reasons may not react well to vaccinations or if undergoing treatment, not compatible with vaccine.
In a case where the reasons are found to be valid, and exemption is granted, employers have a range of options to accommodate employees.
Kok said employers are encouraged to find alternative temporary or permanent employment roles for vulnerable workers where Covid-19 measures such as social distancing can be easily practiced.
“In this case, it would need to be permanent; in a role that doesn’t present as much risk as the risk you’re currently in,” she said.
“Something else that an employer can consider is additional PPE that would be effective in the circumstances,” said Kok.
Employees must get time off to get the jab
The agreement at Nedlac also provides that employees should get time off with pay to get the time vaccine.
“Employees must be given time off to go and receive the vaccine. In the mining sector and the like, where your workplace is in fact a vaccination centre, employers must consider whether they are giving time off in that instance,” said Kok.
Employers must also consider whether or not they will be required to give sick leave from side effects that may be caused by the vaccine, these include extreme fatigue, body pains, and others.
Mining, retail, and aviation may see stricter vaccine policies
Some sectors are more likely to implement mandatory vaccine policies than others, Kok says.
The mining industry, mainly because of deep-level mining and the inability to socially distance underground, is considered an occupational risk in Covid terms and could see employers request that workers take the vaccine, Kok said.
“We could possibly see it in the retail sector as well, just because you are constantly surrounded by customers. Often it may also be difficult for workers in retail to limit the amount of persons in their premises at a particular time,” she said.
The aviation industry may also consider mandatory vaccine policies because of limited opportunity to socially distance, constant contact with the public, and difficulty in controlling numbers of people in confined spaces, she said.