The IMMEDIATE Future of Work: COVID-19 and the Zambian workplace.

Remember when you could rub your eye? You still can, but not without significant reflection on the things you touched before and how you may have potentially infected yourself with COVID-19.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has consumed our daily lives and habits, the workplace is no exception. With COVID-19’s impact on travel, entertainment, and tourism as well as a looming impact of a potential countrywide lock down, it is prudent for both employers and employees to consider the following options which will be discussed in varying levels of detail.

  1. Annual Leave
  2. Forced Leave
  3. Flexible Work
  4. Absenteeism
  5. Sick Leave
  6. Family Responsibility Leave
  7. Redundancy
  8. Other Considerations

It is imperative to note that the majority of these options have legal implications and thus should be considered synchronously with documents such as the employment contract, collective bargaining agreement and The Employment Code Act No.3 of 2019.

Annual Leave

Employees who have accrued (or are expected to accrue annual leave) can be asked to take their annual leave during this time if they are not required at work due to disturbed business processes. However, this may not be a viable option for organisations whose operations have come to a complete standstill and cannot afford to pay employees at all.

Forced Leave

The Employment Code No.3 of 2019 provides for forced leave;

48. (1) An employer shall, where the employer sends an employee on forced leave, pay the employee basic pay during the
period of the forced leave.
(2) The Minister may, by statutory instrument, prescribe the circumstances under which an employee is required to be sent on forced leave

However, owing to the fact that no SI has been issued this remains a theoretical option.

Flexible Work

Remote Working

Whether your organisation implements a remote work policy is entirely dependent on your organization’s circumstances, however the decision should be based on objective evidence and should not be reactionary and spur-of-the-moment. You will want to identify the roles that are critical to your business operations and determine whether those individuals can carry out their jobs while working remotely. If you can proceed, the next critical component is assessing your technological capabilities. Do you have the support in place to assist with the inevitable questions and IT problems that will arise? You should include an anticipated end date in your remote work announcement, for example inform your employees that you will provide weekly updates regarding the status of the remote work period.

Part-time Work

This is applicable in situations where employees are required to report to work intermittently depending on organisational requirements. In such cases employers must ensure that the necessary COVID-19 health and safety measures (i.e social distancing) are in place. In this case employers may want to cross-train employees on a number of core functions to reduce the number of staff required to come into the workplace.

Absenteeism

Employers may experience a rise in employee absenteeism as employees (especially those in high risk jobs) maybe reluctant to come to work fearing that they may contract COVID-19. This should be addressed using company policy such as the employee code of conduct.

Sick Leave

In the instance where your employee contracts COVID-19 , The Employment Code Act No.3 of 2019 provides for sick leave;

38. (1) An employee who is unable to perform that employee’s normal duties due to illness or injury not occasioned by the employee’s default shall notify the employer of the illness or injury and proceed on sick leave on production of a medical certificate from a health practitioner. (2) Where an employee is incapacitated due to illness or injury not occasioned by the employee’s default, the employee is entitled to sick leave under subsection (1), and —

(a) an employee on a short-term contract shall be paid full pay for the equivalent of twenty-six working days of the sick leave and thereafter, half pay for the equivalent of the next twenty-six working days of the sick leave; or

(b)an employee on a long-term contract shall be paid full pay during the first three months of the sick leave and thereafter, half pay for the next three months of the sick leave.

However, whether this will hold for such a black swan event with so many potential illnesses is yet to be seen.

Family Responsibility Leave

The Employment Code Act No. 3 of 2019 has a provision for Family Responsibility Leave. This is paid, non-cumulative and exclusive of annual leave. It is granted to employees who have worked for a period of six months or more. The following prescribes the terms;

A leave of absence with pay for a period not exceeding seven days in a calendar year to enable the employee to nurse a sick spouse,child or dependent.

Three paid leave days per year to cover responsibilities related to care, health or education for that employees child, spouse or dependent.

The Employment Code Act No. 3 of 2019

This may serve to assist employees whose family members have COVID-19, however the employee may potentially have to be quarantined for 21 days after, thus this should be factored into the application process.

Redundancy

The Employment Code Act No. 3 of 2019 has a provision for redundancy which may be invoked if a business wants to downsize or cease operations;

(1) An employer is considered to have terminated a contract of employment of an employee by reason of redundancy if the termination is wholly or in part due to—

(a) the employer ceasing or intending to cease to carry on the business by virtue of which the employees were engaged;

(b) the business ceasing or diminishing or expected ceasing or diminishing the requirement for the employees to carry out work of a particular kind in the place where the employees were engaged; or

(c) an adverse alteration of the employee’s conditions of service which the employee has not consented to.

This does however have financial implications and should be done in consultation with Ministry of Labour.

Other Considerations

Unpaid Leave

In an instance where an organization’s revenue significantly reduces employees may be placed on unpaid leave. However the Zambian employment laws do not provide for this. Thus any such considerations should be done in consultation with the Ministry of Labour. However, the fluidity of the COVID-19 situation may necessitate that the Ministry of Labour address this option as a complete lockdown may threaten the existence of organisations including their ability to sustain a wage bill.

Salary reduction

To mitigate against prolonged shut downs, organisations may consider temporary salary reductions. This requires prior consent from the employee to avoid breaching the employment contract.

Given the fluidity of this rapidly developing situation, the immediate future of work will depend on our ability to create it. As you consider which route to take (this applies to both employees and employers), consider the big picture perspective when making decisions, when all this blows over and it’s time to rebuild, where do you want to be standing?