Using emojis can be legally binding

Think that the use of a specific emoji colour is fine? Think that a black smiley used by a white person is acceptable? Think that sending an image of an eggplant is perfectly normal? The courts in countries like the USA and France say no, and it’s very likely that these rulings are soon going to make their way into South African courts and organisations. According to Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, emojis can be used as evidence against employees and companies in a court of law.

“The inappropriate use of an emoji is going to make an appearance in this country very soon,” he predicts. “People must become far more circumspect in their use of emojis and images when engaging in communication with fellow employees, otherwise they run the risk of being accused of discrimination or harassment, among other things.”

If a white person uses a black smiley in their communication with a fellow employee, that could be perceived very negatively, no matter what thought process may have been behind its use. For some, this could be seen as ‘blackface’ or as a form of discrimination, and it could cause immense distress among employees.

“Of course, any use of an emoji requires context,” says Myburgh. “Labour law looks at the balance of probabilities. Was the emoji used in a negative context or was it part of the flow of conversation? Did it have a racial intent or was it meant to be a way of connecting with someone? If a person, according to the balance of probability, has a reputation for making racial statements, then this use case could be used as proof to take them to a tribunal.”

The same applies to the use of apparently innocuous emojis such as the eggplant. Yes, that could just be a vegetable, but it could also be innuendo and sexual harassment and the same rules apply. Different people see things in different ways and this is influenced by age, gender, culture and situation. For Myburgh, the best way to avoid being caught in the emoji trap is to keep them out of the workplace entirely.

“If you want to avoid a court case or office in-fighting, just don’t use emojis,” he adds. “Of course, that isn’t going to happen; this is neither practical nor realistic so instead adopt the same strategy as you would with verbal conversations – be aware, be careful and be respectful.”

Another example of how emojis could potentially impact on a company or a career is in their interpretation as a tacit agreement. The thumbs up emoji, for example, could be used to make an argument that verbal or visual confirmation was given to something.

“You may be just saying ‘noted’ but the reader may see the thumbs up and think, ‘wow, I got the job’,” concludes Myburgh. “The rule of thumb in any office environment or communication is to stay away from emojis that could have harmful or offensive connotations, such as eggplants, tacos, hearts, kisses, thumbs up, rude gestures or certain types of animals. That way you can avoid unnecessary conflict and an extremely unpleasant court case.”

 

Remote working is the way of the future

By Mark van Dijk for JSE Magazine

Unless you’re a front-line health worker or provided an essential service, you will have joined millions of employees around the world in working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. You’ll know the feeling of ‘Zoom fatigue’. You may have met up with friends or colleagues (virtually, of course) for ‘locktails’ and ‘quarantinis’. And you’ll certainly have enjoyed the short ‘commute’ from your bed to your desk. Chances are, despite the disruptions of the working from home – WFH – revolution, you’re as productive as you’ve ever been, even though you’re not in the office.

Apart from a handful of people who continued to go into the building as an essential service, the vast majority of the JSE’s staff worked from home through the lockdown, as JSE Group CEO Leila Fourie told the Daily Maverick. ‘I find people are working much harder,’ she said. ‘[Physical workplace] presence does not translate into productivity. Leaders [used to] have a false sense of security in employees showing up at the office.’

Fourie adds that the crisis (and, make no mistake, this was an unprecedented crisis) has unlocked a level of solidarity and unity in the team. “We’ve built a new level of trust.”

When asked if he thinks SA businesses will go back to ‘normal’ after the lockdown, media analyst Arthur Goldstuck says yes, and no. ‘One of the things that we’ll find across the different aspects of the way we live our lives – working, shopping and so on – is that part of the shift that we’ve all experienced will become permanent. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to transition into this new way in totality.’

For Goldstuck, it’s a question of digital transformation – and here he draws parallels with the move towards e-commerce. ‘A large proportion of South Africans discovered online shopping during the lockdown, and many will continue shopping online, while many will go back to traditional shopping,’ he says. ‘Those who find online shopping comfortable, convenient and quick will carry on doing it; those who found it didn’t quite work for them will go back to the old way.

‘And even within that there are nuances. Some will become regular online shoppers, while some will now be willing to shop online on occasion. It’s going to be a varied approach, depending on the person’s experience and on their openness to the technology.’

This, he explains, can be extrapolated into the working environment as well. ‘Businesses that have found it difficult to have staff working remotely will go back to the old way,’ he says. ‘But again, you’ll find that even in the businesses that do go back to the old way of working, remote will be allowed far more regularly.’

Yet many employees don’t want to make a permanent move to WFH. A nationwide survey by workplace consultancy Giant Leap found that 86% of South Africans want to go back to working in an office. Giant Leap director Linda Trim says that while remote work was very popular at first, as time wore on people realised that it came with loneliness and a lack of work-life balance.

‘The survey showed 70% of people missed the general social interactions of the office, while 85% said they missed the “colleague interaction” while working at home,’ she says. To that point, about 81% of survey respondents said that working remotely made work communication harder, while more than half said they missed meeting, socialising and having ‘impromptu face time’ with their colleagues.

The erosion of company culture, then, is the biggest concern about – and the last great hurdle before – a complete move to remote working. Virtually every team that gathered together on Zoom meetings during the lockdown already knew each other and already had established relationships. Those bonds can erode over time and can be hugely difficult for new hires to build.

If – as many are predicting – the old model of Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 does indeed change to something more fluid and flexible, offices will have to change to meet those new requirements. Looking ahead, there’s the realisation that while the work may stay the same, and the workforce may adapt, some of the most interesting changes will happen in and to the workplace. Wherever that happens to be.

How do you select who to retrench?

Source: LabourNet

South Africa has experienced several negative economic factors including the Covid-19 pandemic that have adversely affected the performance of companies in all industries. Companies have failed to achieve budgeted revenue while significant financial losses over the past few months have increased.

This has led to an increase in employers being forced to reduce the number of staff through retrenchments by following Section 189 and 189A of the Labour Relations Act. Dismissals based on the employer’s operational requirements include the employer’s economical, technological, structural or similar needs.

Employers must ensure that the termination due to retrenchment must be substantively and procedurally fair to avoid spending time and money at the relevant dispute resolution forums like the CCMA, Bargaining Council and the Labour Court. When an employer is forced to enter into retrenchment consultations, the selection criteria used when selecting which employees may be affected falls within the fairness of the dismissal.

The LRA in section 189(2) prescribes that a joint consensus seeking procedure must be followed and further continues in Section 189(2)(b) that an attempt to reach consensus on the method for selecting the employees to be dismissed. Section 189(7) prescribes that the employer must select employees to be dismissed according to a selection criterion that has been agreed between the parties or failing agreement a criterion that is both fair and objective.

This agreement can be agreed upon in the collective agreement between the Union and the employer and could further be agreed upon between the parties during the consultation process.

Should there be no agreement between the parties, the employer should follow Section 189(7)(b), which refers to the fair and objective selection criteria. The principal of “LIFO” last in first out, that refers to the employee’s years of service is the most commonly used selection criteria in the absence of an agreement between the parties. This is however not the only alternative selection criteria that may be used, when an employer is exploring a fair and objective selection criteria the employer should keep in mind that this selection criterion may not discriminate against a certain group of people.

Performance, skills and qualification or a combination of these criterions is frequently used as a selection criteria during retrenchments.

In Oosthuizen v Telkom SA Ltd [2007] 11 BLLR 1013 (LAC) the court found that the dismissal of the applicant was unfair when the respondent made use of skills, suitability and the company’s employment equity policy, without taking into consideration the appellants years of service.

It is important that the selection criteria should be fair and objective, not only one of the above. By pulling employees names out of a hat could be seen as objective, however it could still be seen as unfair should an employee be selected on this basis with significant more years of service than the employee who is not affected unless this was agreed to by the consulting parties.

There are different ways and means for employers to make use of selection criterions when faced with retrenchments. The sustainability of the business going forward is of outmost importance, however the use of the last in first out “LIFO” principal has been accepted and endorsed by the courts.

Examining your commercial space

The entrepreneurial world’s evolutionary pace has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Great commercial design is centred around accommodating clients, facilitating optimal workflow, and epitomising the company’s brand to communicate a sense of the company’s culture and ethos. The fundamentals of corporate design, though influenced by regulations, have not changed. Now more than ever, the call for businesses to focus on their employee’s wellness and productivity must be brought to the fore.

Here are the top seven elements to examine in your commercial space:

1. Analyse your daily operation, industry, and company culture to clarify your company’s mission and vision. Determining if staff working remotely is in line with your company’s core beliefs is important because values, such as inclusion and collaboration, are trickier to navigate in a remote working environment.

2. Start small. Cutting down on existing furniture, shuffling waiting areas and canteen areas around, modifying modular desks and introducing regulations like plastic screens will ensure compliance with limited spend.

3. Be creative with your design. Compliance does not have to be tedious. Ribbed, or coloured Perspex screens make for a unique and retro design feature in an office and popping a beautiful rental plant between desks on the left and right of individuals is a softer way to ensure social distancing.

4. Keep an eye out for a flexible landlord. Although, many have offered rental holidays or reductions to preserve their relationships with their tenant, if your landlord is not lenient, look for alternatives. Many landlords are offering flexible short-term leases of between 3 – 6 months to offer companies a grace period to recuperate.

5. Co-working offices are not as treacherous as you may think. Many are designed to accommodate private offices which could offer short term relief to your team. Co-working spaces are especially handy because of the facilities they offer that we may not have at home. These include being professionally cleaned regularly, having access to high speed uncapped WIFI, conference areas for teams and being quiet for focused work.

6. Formally assess your health and safety protocols. A safety officer can compare your company’s perception of health and safety with the reality and find invaluable discrepancies to give you a good idea of where to start modifying your space.

7. Redesign your team’s office with your teams’ input. Your space can be effectively and economically redesigned by getting your teams opinions of its current and future purpose. Collaborating with your colleagues, design consultants, and landlords will ensure compliance and efficiency for your team that is sustainable for years to come.

Successful businesses during the COVID19 pandemic have shown how valuable the ability to read the industry climate and how effective making micro-adjustments can be. Finding a space that balances people’s health, financial sustainability and beautiful design should not be underestimated in its power to help us settle into the “new normal”.

Why Zoom calls drain your energy

By Manyu Jiang for BBC Worklife

Your screen freezes. There’s a weird echo. A dozen heads stare at you. There are the work huddles, the one-on-one meetings and then, once you’re done for the day, the hangouts with friends and family.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we’re on video calls more than ever before – and many are finding it exhausting.

But what, exactly, is tiring us out? BBC Worklife spoke to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, who studies workplace wellbeing and teamwork effectiveness, to hear their views.

Is video chat harder?

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Petriglieri. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” he says.

Delays on phone or conferencing systems of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused
Silence is another challenge, he adds. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” It also makes people uncomfortable. One 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.

An added factor, says Shuffler, is that if we are physically on camera, we are very aware of being watched. “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.” It’s also very hard for people not to look at their own face if they can see it on screen, or not to be conscious of how they behave in front of the camera.

How are the current circumstances contributing?

Yet if video chats come with extra stressors, our Zoom fatigue can’t be attributed solely to that. Our current circumstances – whether lockdown, quarantine, working from home or otherwise – are also feeding in.

Petriglieri believes that fact we feel forced into these calls may be a contributory factor. “The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. It is the distress that every time you see someone online, such as your colleagues, that reminds you we should really be in the workplace together,” he says. “What I’m finding is, we’re all exhausted; It doesn’t matter whether they are introverts or extroverts. We are experiencing the same disruption of the familiar context during the pandemic.”

Then there’s the fact that aspects of our lives that used to be separate – work, friends, family – are all now happening in the same space. The self-complexity theory posits that individuals have multiple aspects – context-dependent social roles, relationships, activities and goals – and we find the variety healthy, says Petriglieri. When these aspects are reduced, we become more vulnerable to negative feelings.

“Most of our social roles happen in different places, but now the context has collapsed,” says Petriglieri. “Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now… We are confined in our own space, in the context of a very anxiety-provoking crisis, and our only space for interaction is a computer window.”

Shuffler says a lack of downtime after we’ve fulfilled work and family commitments may be another factor in our tiredness, while some of us may be putting higher expectations on ourselves due to worries over the economy, furloughs and job losses. “There’s also that heightened sense of ‘I need to be performing at my top level in a situation’… Some of us are kind of over-performing to secure our jobs.”

Shouldn’t  Zooming my friends relax me?

Lots of us are doing big group chats for the first time, whether it’s cooking and eating a virtual Easter dinner, attending a university catch-up or holding a birthday party for a friend. If the call is meant to be fun, why might it feel tiring?

Part of it, says Shuffler, is whether you’re joining in because you want to or because you feel you ought to – like a virtual happy hour with colleagues from work. If you see it as an obligation, that means more time that you’re ‘on’ as opposed to getting a break. A proper chat with friends will feel more social and there will be less ‘Zoom fatigue’ from conversations where you’ve had a chance to be yourself.

Big group calls can feel particularly performative, Petriglieri warns. People like watching television because you can allow your mind to wander – but a large video call “is like you’re watching television and television is watching you”. Large group chats can also feel depersonalising, he adds, because your power as an individual is diminished. And despite the branding, it may not feel like leisure time. “It doesn’t matter whether you call it a virtual happy hour, it’s a meeting, because mostly we are used to using these tools for work.”

So how can we alleviate Zoom fatigue?

Both experts suggest limiting video calls to those that are necessary. Turning on the camera should be optional and in general there should be more understanding that cameras do not always have to be on throughout each meeting. Having your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead, could also help your concentration, particularly in group meetings, says Petriglieri. It makes you feel like you’re in an adjoining room, so may be less tiring.

In some cases it’s worth considering if video chats are really the most efficient option. When it comes to work, Shuffler suggests shared files with clear notes can be a better option that avoids information overload. She also suggests taking time during meetings to catch up before diving into business. “Spend some time to actually check into people’s wellbeing,” she urges. “It’s a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern.”

Building transition periods in between video meetings can also help refresh us – try stretching, having a drink or doing a bit of exercise, our experts say. Boundaries and transitions are important; we need to create buffers which allow us to put one identity aside and then go to another as we move between work and private personas.

And maybe, says Petriglieri, if you want to reach out, go old-school. “Write a letter to someone instead of meeting them on Zoom. Tell them you really care about them.”

 

By Phumi Ramalepe for Business Insider SA

Discovery Health has dismissed 10 employees for being part of a private WhatsApp group that apparently aimed to get its Cape Town offices closed.

The 10 young call centre employees apparently asked to be allowed to work from home around the beginning of lockdown. Three of them said they contracted Covid-19.

Their lawyer says their privacy was violated. Discovery says the evidence it obtained through a whistleblower is grounds for dismissal.

Discovery Health fired 10 call centre employees during lockdown for being part of a WhatsApp group that, apparently, sought to “shut down” local Cape Town offices in March, for fear of the coronavirus.

Now the employees want compensation, and their jobs back, but Discovery says it had solid grounds to dismiss them – even though the chat group was private.

According to Discovery, another employee, who had been an active participant of the group, provided information about posts in the group. The company characterises the conversations as bringing it into disrepute, while, it says, the employees failed to raise their concerns internally.

“Ten employees were plotting to sabotage Discovery Health, including plans to involve external third parties to bring the company into disrepute,” said Ryan Noach, the CEO of Discovery Health.

“The motive appeared to be an attempt to achieve the closure of the local Discovery Health offices, in order not to have to work during the period.”

Although the group chat was private, Discovery insists that the employees were “acting subversively”, based on evidence from the whistleblower.

After investigations were conducted, the employees were dismissed in July.

The employees’ pro bono lawyer, Nkosinathi Malgas, said the employees were dismissed unfairly, and only created the WhatsApp group to support each other after Discovery Health refused to let all of them work from home while three of them contracted Covid-19.

“The contents of the WhatsApp group were them talking about their safety in the workplace, and they were supporting one another in terms of the emotional trauma that they were going through,” said Malgas.

Malgas argues that the employees’ right to privacy was also violated, since information that was meant to be private was used against them.

“Constitutional rights of citizens override any social [media] policy. This information was processed from their personal cellphones and these individuals have got a right to privacy.

“Their information is protected in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act, and therefore anyone who wants to get into your personal information must do so with your consent as well as a court order,” said Malgas.

It would have been a different story had the employees used Discovery’s tools of trade, according to Malgas, rather than their own cellphones and a chat platform unconnected to the company.

Noach, however, insisted no one’s rights were infringed throughout investigations.

“It should also be entirely clear, that all device information utilised in this disciplinary investigation was submitted voluntarily and without coercion, by a whistleblower who made their personal device available.

“There was certainly no infringement of any personal confidential device information whatsoever,” Noach said.

An arbitration that wasn’t
Discovery and the employees had been due to appear before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Monday, but Discovery did not show up, according to Malgas.

A clause in the employees’ contracts stipulates that any dispute related to labour matters, dismissals or termination of employment will be referred to a private arbitration, Malgas said, which means they will have to pay a potion of the cost of such private arbitration.

Discovery tells a different story, however. It had applied for the CCMA matter to be heard virtually, the company said.

“The Commissioner tasked to deal with the matter was unfortunately unavailable and the file was handed to another. It was unfortunate that technical issues were experienced on the side of the CCMA and we could not engage further,” Noach said.

SA launches Covid-19 tracing app

Source: SA Coronavirus

South Africa’s COVID Alert SA app was released yesterday. Here’s all you need to know about SA’s new Bluetooth-based contact tracing app:

  • You can download the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. It’s under 3 MB in size
  • The app is free and does not feature in-app purchases.
  • You will not have to pay for mobile data when you use the app – the data to use the app has been zero-rated by all of South Africa’s mobile network providers

What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is the process used by public health authorities to control the spread of epidemics and pandemics. It’s been integral to containing outbreaks such as that of the Ebola virus in 2014, of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, and of tuberculosis (TB) and other infectious diseases that are highly contagious.

Contact tracing means healthcare workers identifying and interviewing those who have contracted a disease to identify their ‘close contacts’ – those they have been in close proximity to in the recent past and therefore possibly infected as a result of their close contact.

Why do we need apps to assist with the contact tracing process?
Manual contact tracing is a time-consuming, process that has its limits. The person who tests positive for COVID-19 needs to remember all the people they have been in close contact with for the past two weeks and their contact details, which is not possible for people they come into contact with in public places such as the grocery store or public transport.

Bluetooth contact tracing apps, like COVID Alert SA, replace the need for us to remember and identify close contacts by simply letting app users’ smartphones “say hi” to each other and keep a record of every time this happens.

And, really importantly, every app-user’s identity is kept private at all times.

How the COVID Alert SA app allows for Bluetooth contact-tracing

  • COVID Alert SA app uses Bluetooth signals to exchange ‘random codes’ (these are just random numbers that change several times a day) with other COVID Alert SA app users. That’s how the phones “say hi” to each other.
  • This happens when app users’ smartphones are within two metres of each other for more than 15 minutes.
  • This process happens whether app users are near to people that they know – such as when near to friends, family or colleagues – and people that they aren’t acquainted with – such as at the shops in a queue, or on public transport.
  • As long as the COVID Alert SA app is running on smartphones that are near enough to each other, they will share random codes – saying “hi” and giving each other a digital handshake.
  • The random codes exchanged at the time of the ‘digital handshake’ are stored in a log on each phone for 16 days.
  • At no stage is the identity and location of the device users required for this exchange to happen. All that the COVID Alert SA app tracks is the proximity of smartphone devices to one another and how long they are in contact for.
  • Then, when an app user contracts COVID‑19 and a test shows they have the disease, they can choose to anonymously report this information to the app community. That kicks off the Bluetooth-based contact tracing process.
  • Their smartphone uploads the random codes that it has on record from the past 16 days to the Exposure Notification Server.
    The Server sends these random codes to all of other app users.
  • Each app user’s device runs through these random codes to check for a match between these codes and the codes it has stored in the past 16 days (every time it has come into contact with another device using the COVID Alert SA app).
  • If there is a match, the device notifies the user that there they have potentially been exposed to COVID‑19, with the date on which they were in contact with someone who has tested positive.
  • App users also receive information on what to do next to self-quarantine (for 14 days), watch for symptoms of COVID-19, and to optimise their health and wellbeing.
  • This all happens in a way that preserves the privacy of every app user at all times.

By joining other COVID Alert SA app users, we can work together to stay safe, save lives and turn the tide on COVID-19 in South Africa.

 

 

By Jack Needham for Wired

A survey from Morgan Stanley’s research unit AlphaWise, conducted in mid-July, found that only 34 per cent of UK ‘white-collar’ workers had returned to work, and for city workers that’s only one in six. As the BBC also reports, 50 of the biggest UK employers have no plans to ask all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

Workplace anxiety may be the driving factor in this. A ManpowerGroup survey, published last week but carried out in June, found that staff in the US and UK were both less confident about returning to work and more fearful of a second Covid-19 wave compared to Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, Singapore and Spain.

It begs the question, why return at all? Sally Carthy, director of client services at the Stafford firm Carthy Accountants, recently took the decision to get her team of 15 back into the office. She points to a few reasons why. After months of virtual meetings Zoom fatigue had set in deep – “our clients wanted to come into the office to see people,” she says – and almost half of her team requested to be back at their desk before their proposed return date of August 3, yearning for the “camaraderie” Carthy says the office provides.

Some staff members lived by themselves and found their lockdown 9-5 far too lonely, says Carthy, and others in the early stages of their careers felt they were lacking guidance and supervision.

For the most part it’s been business as usual, with the only major changes being an office one way system and extra cleaning duties. Still, Carthy experienced some pushback from staff. “Some found working at home to be enjoyable, became very used to working in home clothes and expressed some reluctance to return to the office,” says Carthy. “They all came back without too much trouble.”

Returning to the office was compulsory for staff, however Carthy says she “would have responded appropriately had anyone had specific health or other reasons for not returning”.

Given that they have worked productively from home since March, many office workers may believe the rush to go back to the office is pointless.

The figures are persuasive: although working from home fatigue is setting in, a study from social media platform Buffer, and job site AngelList! found that 98 per cent of people would like the option to work remotely for the rest of their careers. That may be down to increased productivity, a better work-life balance or the fact that, as a recent survey conducted by Culture Shift found, 26 per cent of tech workers are receiving passive-aggressive comments less often.

Working from home also helps stop the spread of the virus. A study from the University of Sussex found that a 30 per cent reduction in workplace interactions is forecasted to result in a 62 per cent reduction in new infections and a 54 per cent reduction in new deaths by the end of 2020, compared with no additional interventions.

Nobody wants to breath recycled air during a pandemic but raising safety concerns to a superior is a daunting task, and convincing your boss to let you stay at home and avoid a packed 7am pacer train is a hard sell. Can you refuse to return?

“If an employee is worried about catching coronavirus by going into work then they should talk to their employer as early as possible and discuss what options may be available,” says Tom Neil, senior adviser at ACAS, an independent advisory for employer and employee rights.

Neil suggests that this could include continued working from home, changing working hours or looking at other flexible working arrangements. If concerns can’t be resolved through an informal chat then it is possible for employees to raise a formal grievance, which must be followed if an organisation has a grievance procedure.

Concerned employees can also contact their HR department or union, if they have them.

To avoid staff mutineers, Laura Kearsley, partner & solicitor at Nelsons law firm, suggests that employers must be open with employees about safety measures, share risk assessments to reassure employees and take employee concerns on board before the doors open. “This is likely to be more effective than a blanket instruction to attend or an outright refusal to do so,” she says.

If all that fails, however, then the law is on the side of the employer. “Employees will usually be in breach of their employment contract if they refuse to attend work,” says Neil. “If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason it could result in disciplinary action.”

Ultimately, the employers have the power, so the best advice is to hope yours are good ones. If they’re not, then employees may be nervous about approaching the question of working from home for fear of retaliation, which could have wider consequences.

“Covid morbidity is going right under the radar in many cases,” says Andrew Watterson, professor of health sciences at the university of Stirling. He explains how staff who are forced to return to the office may not disclose Covid symptoms for fear of dismissal or loss of work, especially those in precarious or zero hour jobs. “There are good employers, but the bad ones may force workers to cover up sickness because sick pay is poor, benefit support is inadequate and furloughing and other schemes are ending.”

This could put employees in “double jeopardy” says Watterson, placing them at risk of contracting the virus in offices while encouraging them to continue working when sick. But rushed return to work measures could also hit businesses where it hurts: financially.

If an employee contracts Covid in the workplace they may be entitled to take their employer to civil court for negligence or harm caused in the workplace. A successful case would be difficult to achieve, though. An employee would need to prove they had been exposed to Covid in their workplace and Covid-19 is not yet classed as an occupational disease which, if it were, would help workers gain compensation if they contract it.

Within this minefield of grey area legislation and workplace pressure, people have little option to follow the rules and avoid posting incriminating evidence on social media.

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

Despite the widespread practice of shutting down entire retail stores and calling in deep-cleaning experts when an employee tests positive for COVID-19, there is no legal requirement for retailers (or other employers) to do either.

This is according to Talita Laubscher, partner at leading African law firm, Bowmans, who said: ‘We have been told by representatives of the Department of Health that in most circumstances, it’s not necessary to do a complete shutdown. What’s more, cleaning does not need to be completed by special cleaning service providers. It can be as simple as using Jik.’

She was speaking during a recent webinar hosted by Bowmans on employment law challenges faced by the retail sector.

Unlike other sectors, the retail industry has been open since the start of the national lockdown, when there were no directives in place to deal with situations where employees tested positive for COVID-19. In the absence of directives at the time, Department of Employment and Labour inspectors adopted certain practices, such as instructing retailers, especially food retailers, to shut down their stores and call in external cleaning specialists. These practices have in some instances continued from then on – even though they are not legal requirements contained in any of the directives.

Laubscher said in the event that an employee tests positive, the employer must consider three things: the need to temporarily close and decontaminate the affected area; placing the employee who tested positive in isolation; and determining who else has been in contact with the employee who tested positive and assessing the level of risk of that exposure. ‘In this regard, a distinction is made between a high-risk exposure and a low-risk exposure.’

Low vs high-risk exposure

A low-risk exposure is where the contact with the employee who tested positive was for less than 15 minutes and more than 1.5 metres apart, with the individuals wearing protective equipment such as masks or shields. ‘In these circumstances, the employee who was in contact with the one who tested positive can continue to work, but must be carefully monitored for the development of symptoms,’ she said.

In the case of a high-risk exposure, the employee must be placed in quarantine. A high-risk exposure is contact for more than 15 minutes and less than 1.5 metres apart, with the individuals not wearing protective equipment.

‘The employee’s absence following a high-risk exposure absence must be treated as sick leave,” said Laubscher. ‘If sick leave is exhausted, the employer might allow the employee to take annual leave, or special COVID-19 leave, at the discretion of the employer. If such leave options are not available and the employee develops symptoms, the employee may be able to claim illness benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.’

Paid sick leave for employees who test positive

As soon as it comes to light that an employee is positive for COVID-19, the employer must notify the national Department of Health. If the person contracted the virus at the workplace, the Department of Employment and Labour must also be notified.

COVID-19-positive people must immediately be placed on paid sick leave, said Laubscher. ‘If they have exhausted their sick leave, they should apply for the illness benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act.’

When the employee has recovered and is ready to work, there is no need for her or him to be tested again before returning to the workplace. ‘All the person needs, is a medical certificate confirming that she or he is fit and healthy to work again. There is no legal requirement for another test.’

This has been confirmed in the Directive issued by the Minister of Health on 11 August 2020, in terms of which repeat testing is not required for a person to de-isolate. This Directive also reduces the isolation period to 10 days. The Occupational Health and Safety Directive has, however, not yet been amended and this Directive still refers to the isolation period of 14 days.

In another recent development, the Minister of Employment and Labour has signed new directives on dealing with COVID-19-related Compensation Fund claims. The purpose is to provide clearer guidance on compensation for employees who contracted the virus at the workplace and to take new scientific developments into account.

 

How offices will change post-Covid-19

By David Seinker, CEO and founder of The Business Exchange

In the early days of lockdown, there were a lot of confident predictions that we were witnessing the beginning of a remote work revolution. As the weeks have dragged on, however, such fancies have quickly proven to be an illusion.

Jaded by trying to fit a workday around homeschooling children, spending too much time with their spouses, and (in some cases) crushing loneliness, many workers are desperate to get back to the office. In fact, a recent survey found that 86% of South African office workers are ready to return to their places of work. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reports that companies are finding that fully remote workforces mean that projects take longer, collaboration is harder, and that training new workers is a struggle.

But how to balance that need for structure with the flexibility a post-pandemic world demands? The key lies in reimagining the office in a way that suits both companies and employees.

Why remote isn’t working

It is, of course, tempting to say that the reason companies are struggling with remote work is because of the pandemic. After all, no one can pretend that being confined at home while trying to maintain a relationship with their romantic partner and homeschool their children on the side is simple. Different, but equally stressed out are the younger employees who’ve had to turn their house-share bedrooms into offices, or been forced to spend all day with housemates they might’ve only seen occasionally. As an oft-repeated meme from the past few months points out, we’re not so much working from home as living at work.

Without the usual perks of remote work, such as being able to decamp to a coffee shop from time to time, have in-person meetings, or hook up with friends early on a Friday afternoon, remote work quickly starts to lose its shine.

But there’s more to it than that. In order for remote work to be effective, a company has to be willing to commit to it entirely. Moreover, it has to be sure that its employees are capable of working remotely. That’s why companies that are remote from the start often fare better than those that adopt it as a policy later on.

People who’ve spent their whole careers in an office are simply likely to feel more comfortable in a properly structured work environment.

The benefits of the office

It’s also worth bearing in mind that offices come with benefits of their own, outside of providing somewhere to work. For many people, interacting with colleagues can act as a spark for collaboration and help foster innovation.

That serendipity is one of the main reasons why then Yahoo CEO Marrisa Mayer banned employees from working remotely in 2013. While there was considerable push-back from staff, the reasoning was at least sound. It’s also easier to call an all-hands meeting during an emergency when all hands are, as it were, on-deck.

That’s not to say that the traditional office isn’t without its pitfalls. Among the reasons most frequently cited for wanting to go remote are constant interruptions and an inability to do so-called “deep work”.

A different future

Many of those pitfalls can be avoided with a different approach to the office. The traditional method of searching for office real estate, signing long-term leases, and trying to make it work as the organisation grows and shrinks simply isn’t tenable any longer.

Instead, organisations should turn to office solutions that can adapt to their needs, no matter what phase of growth they’re in, and which have a deep understanding of what makes for a good, professional office environment. Such a solution also allows companies to easily bring employees into the office when it’s useful, while allowing them to deep work at home without wasting money on empty desks.

This kind of flexibility also produces savings, which can help companies build resilience against any future economic shocks.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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