Must employees disclose their vaccination status?

While employers cannot force their employees to be vaccinated, there are various grounds for dismissing employees who object, provided that the employer has conducted a thorough risk assessment to determine the need for vaccination. They also need to provide every possible reasonable solution to accommodate them.

One of the grounds on which an employer can let go of an employee who refuses the jab is the refusal of sharing medical information if they wish to be exempt from their workplace’s vaccine programme for medical reasons. If an employee objects on medical grounds, they may be sent for medical testing to prove the veracity of their claims.

Employers must, however, ensure that they are obtaining the consent of their employees before they send them for medical testing and that all the provisions of the Employment Equity Act are closely complied with in relation to discrimination.

However, an employer can make the disclosure of medical information mandatory for a public policy reason. Employers can argue that mandatory vaccination and vaccination-related information are critical to the organisation and necessary for the company to continue its operations. An option would be for the inclusion of an employment policy or a workplace vaccination policy which states that vaccination and Covid statuses must be disclosed. If the employer can show that the non-disclosure of it prevents the company from operating, or that it endangers others, it can go as far as dismissing the employee.

In terms of the guidelines and directives of the Health Professions Council of South Africa, registered health practitioners can be approached for a patient’s medical details. Any personal information can, however, only be shared in alignment with the council’s ethical rules and regulations. Confidential information can only be shared with the express consent of the relevant parties. Any of the personal information can be shared if all parties expressly grant such permission.

However, in some instances, the law can require that medical professionals provide and/or divulge certain medical information without the consent of a patient, by way of a court order if required by law, and/or if the disclosure is in the public interest.

Although civil actions for breach of confidence are rare, the issue can be a minefield for the unwary. Thus, those who are about to reveal and/or compel the disclosure of confidential information should carefully consider their grounds for doing so and be clear that there is either consent, lawful authority, or some public interest justification.

Reference List:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Resigning with immediate effect, or not?

Employees often consider to immediately terminate their employment relationship due to a new opportunity arising or to avoid responsibility when faced with disciplinary procedures. Employment relationships are governed by an employment agreement or legal statutes, and in most cases both. If an employer and employee do not expressly agree on the notice period needed for either of them to terminate their relationship, section 37 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 75 of 1997 (the Act)  provides for minimum notice periods. But what happens when the employee does not follow the notice period in the employment agreement and resigns with immediate effect?

The Labour Appeal Court address this matter in Standard Bank of South Africa Limited v Nombulelo Cynthia Chiloane (2021) 4 BLLR 400 (LAC). In this matter, the employee was said to have cashed a cheque without following proper procedures. It later transpired that the cashed cheque was fraudulent, which caused the employer a loss of just under R30 000. The employee was given notice to attend a disciplinary hearing. On the day that the employee received the notice to attend the disciplinary hearing, she handed her superior her letter of resignation, stating that she was tendering her “resignation with immediate effect”.

Standard Bank proceeded with the employee’s disciplinary hearing during her contractual notice period, but the employee argued that her resignation immediately terminated the employment relationship, and that Standard Bank was therefore not entitled to proceed with her disciplinary hearing. The chairperson of the disciplinary hearing rejected this argument and proceeded with the hearing. The employee and her attorney then left the disciplinary hearing, which proceeded in her absence.

The employee was ultimately found guilty of the misconduct and dismissed. After becoming aware of the dismissal, the employee launched an urgent application in the Labour Court to challenge the validity of the dismissal.

The Labour Court held that a resignation with immediate effect terminates the employment relationship immediately and Standard Bank was not permitted to hold the employee to her notice period. Accordingly, the Labour Court declared that the employee’s dismissal was null and void. Standard Bank, however, appealed the decision to the Labour Appeal Court.

The Labour Appeal Court held that if the contract provides for a notice period, the party that seeks to terminate the contract must give or serve the prescribed notice. A party’s failure to abide by their notice period thus amounts to a repudiation of the employment agreement. The Labour Appeal Court found that the employee’s reliance on her resignation being with immediate effect was not valid. Standard Bank was therefore within its rights to hold the employee to her notice period as prescribed in her employment agreement, and to proceed with her disciplinary hearing during that period.

What is important to note from this judgement is the fact that unless the employer releases the employee from his/her obligation in terms of the employment agreement, the employee will commit a breach of agreement. Accordingly, the employee can also be held liable for damages suffered by the employer.

Employees will also expose themselves to a poor reference for future opportunities.

Should the employer, however, decide to accept the short notice, even when it contradicts the prescribed notice period, there will be no obligation on the employer to pay the employee beyond the last day on which they worked.

Accordingly, it will be best for employees to revisit their employment agreements prior to tendering their resignation or committing to any other opportunity. However, should the need arise for short notice, employees will have to engage with their employers to see if a mutual agreement can be reached to accept the notice.

Reference List:

  • Standard Bank of South Africa Limited v Nombulelo Cynthia Chiloane (2021) 4 BLLR 400 (LAC)2021) 4 BLLR 400 (LAC).
  • Steenkamp & others v Edcon Ltd (National Union of Metalworkers of SA intervening (2016) 37 ILJ 564 (CC).
  • Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 75 of 1997.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Rendering of transport services by employers

Paragraph 2(e) of the Seventh Schedule to the Income Tax Act[1] deems an employer to grant a taxable benefit to an employee if any service has, at the expense of the employer, been rendered to the employee for his or her private or domestic use.

 

The taxable benefit which arises in this instance is valued under paragraph 10 of the Seventh Schedule and is included in paragraph (i) of the definition of “gross income” and therefore subject to income tax.[2] The taxable benefit will further be included in the employee’s remuneration[3] and the employer will be obliged to withhold employees’ tax on these amounts.[4]

 

Where an employer, that is engaged in the business of conveying passengers for reward by sea or air, enables an employee (or relative) to travel overseas for private or domestic purposes, the cash value of the taxable benefit is an amount equal to the lowest fare less any consideration payable by the employee or relative.[5]

 

The cash value of a taxable benefit with regards to the rendering of any other service is the cost to the employer in rendering that service or having that service rendered.[6] These services may, therefore, be rendered by the employer or some other person.

 

Paragraph 10(2)(b) of the Seventh Schedule, however, states that the taxable benefit will attract no value if a transport service is rendered by the employer to its employees in general for the conveyance of such employees from their homes to the place of their employment (and vice versa).

 

Some uncertainty existed as to the application of the no-value provision. The South African Revenue Service (“SARS”) therefore issued two binding general rulings under section 89 of the Tax Administration Act[7] as well as the recent Interpretation Note 111 to provide clarity on these issues.

 

In BGR 42 (issued on 22 March 2017) it was considered whether the word “homes” should be restricted to the exact position of an employee’s specific dwelling or whether an employer may arrange for employees living within a certain radius to be collected from or dropped off at a common area or central point between the employees’ homes and place of employment.

 

In this regard, it was confirmed that the no-value provision would apply to transport services provided to employees to and from any collection or drop-off point en route to or from the employees’ homes and place of employment or any part of that trip.

 

[1] No 58 of 1962

[2] Section 5(1) of the Income Tax Act.

[3] Paragraph (b) of the definition of “remuneration” in paragraph 1 of the Fourth Schedule.

[4] Paragraph 2(1) of the Fourth Schedule.

[5] Paragraph 10(1)(a) of the Seventh Schedule.

[6] Paragraph 10(1)(b) of the Seventh Schedule.

[7] No 28 of 2011

 

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)