My colleague is so afraid of the coronavirus that she doesn’t want to resume work after lockdown. Can an employee who doesn’t show up for work because they are afraid of contracting Coronavirus be fired? Harriet
Ordinarily, it’s not permissible for employees to be away from the workplace without the employer’s authorisation or due to good cause. Where your colleague has no reasonable basis for the fear of COVID-19 infection, any absence from the workplace could be deducted from their leave days or be construed as abscondment with its attendant consequences.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006 (the OSHA) imposes a heavy duty on employers to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work for all persons at the work place.
The OSHA imposes a legal obligation on employers to take various measures to protect their employees from the spread of COVID-19, which would even extend to shut downs such that the work premises can be thoroughly disinfected.
In addition, if an employee gets infected at the place of work, the employer is liable under the Workers Compensation Act, Cap 225 to compensate the employee for work related infections/injuries. These are costs which employers are very much aware of and would want to avoid.
However, as I had written on this page earlier, one of the biggest impact of COVID-19 on the workplace shall be the new normal of working remotely. Employers have realised that it’s cost effective and employees can be more productive away from office, due to the fact that working remotely promotes work-life balance.
Therefore, COVID-19 has given your colleague reasonable options he can table and discuss with his employer to work better and smarter in the post-COVID-19 era.
Head Human Resource, NMG-Uganda