On 27 June President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the placement of the country under Adjusted Alert Level 4 for two weeks, due to the worrying increase in the numbers of COVID-19 infections in South Africa.
The new regulations prohibit gatherings of any kind, either indoors or outdoors, with all non-essential establishments to close by 8pm every night. Other restrictions pertain to funerals, the banning of alcohol sales, curfews and restrictions on travel to and from Gauteng. No mention is made of hair salons in the regulations, which remain open for trading. Whether this will still be the case after two weeks remains to be seen.
In the meantime, all salons must comply by 1 July with the updated COVID-19 health and safety protocols in the workplace directive that was recently published by Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi. Part of this directive dals with the issue of vaccination.
Employers must decide whether they intend to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, taking into account the operational requirements of the workplace.
The EOHCB (Employers Organisation of Hairdressing, Cosmetology Beauty) has published the following information on the Resources page of its website (eohcb.co.za).
If an employer does decide to make vaccinations mandatory, it is also required to identify employees who, by virtue of the risk of transmission through work, age, or co-morbidities, must be vaccinated.
Employers will also be required to develop a plan outlining the protective measures in place for the phased return of workers, and the measures it plans to implement to ensure that workers are vaccinated.
Other issues which should be included in the plan are:
The date the workplace will open and the hours it will be opening;
A list of employees permitted to work and those who are required and able to work from home;
The plan and timetable for the phased return of employees;
The employees who have been identified as vulnerable;
Ways of minimising workers in the workplace;
The measures for the daily screening of employees, clients, contractors, and visitors;
Procedures for employees who refuse to work due to fear of exposure to COVID-19.
Should the employer decide to make vaccinations mandatory, this should also be explicitly included in the plan, as and when COVID-19 vaccines become available for those employees.
If reasonable and practical, the employer should also provide transport to and from the vaccination site for the worker, and is required to give the worker time off should they have side-effects following the vaccination.
The right to refuse vaccination
The directive states that employees still have a right to refuse the vaccine on constitutional or medical grounds, and should be allowed to consult with a health and safety representative, or a worker representative, or trade union official.
Should an employee refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds, the employer should:
Counsel the employee, and if requested, allow the employee to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, worker representative, or trade union representative;
Refer for medical evaluation should there be a be medical contraindication for vaccination;
If necessary, takes steps to reasonably accommodate an employee in a position that does not require them to be vaccinated. The directive states that this ‘accommodation’ means any reasonable change that would allow an employee to keep their job, such as working offsite or from home, or in isolation at the workplace. This may also include the requirement that the employee wears an N95 mask.
Employers of more than 10 employees have a very limited time period to conduct a mandatory COVID-19 risk assessment taking into account the amendments to the Department of Employment and Labour Occupational Health and Safety Direction that was published on 11 June 2021. The ultimate objective is to make an informed decision on whether the employer is required to make COVID 19 vaccinations mandatory or not. Irrespective of the outcome, the risk assessment, and Workplace Plan must be updated and consulted with the stipulated stakeholders.
To find out how to access the EOHCB’s Consolidated Occupational Health and Safety Toolkit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.