Can an employer fire an employee over Covid-19?

Friday May 1 2020



Caroline Mboijana

Caroline Mboijana 

By Caroline Mboijana

Is it legal for an employer to fire an employee who has contracted coronavirus? Is there anything in the law that protects employees directly affected by pandemics from getting fired? Shamim

Dear Shamim, it’s not right nor is it legal to terminate an employee who has been unfortunate to contract coronavirus.

Before I recommend how it should be managed, it’s important to ask how the person contracted the virus. If the employee is an essential worker, that is, is a medic or is working on the front line in the fight against the pandemic, how they are managed will be different to an employee who contracted it out of the workplace.

In both cases, the initial illness will be managed in line with the company’s policy. The employee will need to ensure a doctor’s letter is sent to the employer so they can be officially off work as sick.

Furthermore, they should be given time off as recommended by the doctor. If the person contracted coronavirus while in the workplace and is still not fit to work at the end of the recommended sick leave period and requires more time, then any additional time and payment is covered under the Workman’s Compensation Act.

The assumption is the employer has paid the workman’s compensation cover as required by law. They will be given time off for a full recovery until they are fit to return to work or until the insurance cover runs out.

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If on the other hand the employee was not an essential worker and did not contract coronavirus while at work and is still unwell at the end of the recommended sick leave period, they should negotiate for more time off work so they can recover. The negotiations will probably include an agreed time frame for recovery, what payment if any would the employee receive while off sick.

In this period, I do think employers will be reluctant to fire employees who’ve contracted coronavirus and would rather support employees to recovery, with the moral principle of saving lives as the key focus as opposed to saving money.

Caroline Mboijana
Managing Director
The Leadership Team (U)
cmboijana@gmail.com

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