After President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address declaring the COVID-19 pandemic a national disaster and urging the public to implement precautionary measures, many companies and institutions are likely considering restructuring their day-to-day operations. What’s more, in the same speech, the President ordered the closure of schools across the Nation, with hopes of further curbing the spread of COVID-19. But what does this mean for working parents? Is this reason enough for their employers to grant them the opportunity to work from home?  Let’s take a legal look.

Is the presence of COVID-19 enough to justify working from home?

Of course, it is absolutely understandable that parents would want to do their best to take care of their children. However, for now, working moms and dads are still employees, which means they are legally obligated to go to work unless otherwise instructed by their boss. Unfortunately, COVID-19 making its way into the country is not a reason to stay away from work without a valid reason; parents could face disciplinary hearings if they do.

What if an employer decides to allow employees to work from home?

Well, this would be great news for parents wanting to be at home with their children, because employees do not have a legal right to work from home.  This can only be done in the discretion of the employer, meaning they need to consent to the working arrangement. Be sure to always speak to your employer about any concerns you may have regarding the arrangement.

Should an employer permit remote working, the employee is still responsible for completing their work duties. Bear in mind, not everyone can work from home (it’s usually only a corporate environment that allows for this), so there needs to be a discussion about how exactly this would work.  In this instance, the employer, if possible, could look into some kind of special paid leave. If that is not feasible, there might have to be a discussion about annual leave days being used.

But, in cases where it is possible to work from home, and the employer permits it, it is recommend that clear guidelines are set out for everyone to understand and follow. An employer could also consider doing as much as possible to ensure it is viable for the employee; for example, the employee must have access to a secure telephone line and Wi-Fi connection, and employees should remain within travelling distance of the office.

Communication is key!

Employees -whether parents or not- should always have open and honest discussion with their employers about arrangements to work from home.  Employees do not have a legal right to work from home. Never stay away from the office or place of work without making plans with your employer, as disciplinary action is likely. Yes, these are confusing and uncertain times, but always turn to communication as an effective starting point.

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