You can be fired for refusing Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa

20 June 2021

Employers in South Africa may dismiss staff who refuse to receive a vaccination against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

However, such termination will only be legal if the employer complies with several strict requirements set out in a directive issued by the Minister of Employment and Labour earlier this month.

This is according to Rapport, quoting legal professionals from ENSafrica and Webber Wentzel.

Companies have until the end of June to develop a vaccination plan, in which they must identify those employees that will be required to receive the vaccine.

ENSafrica explained that the directive requires that identified employees are notified of their obligation to get a vaccine when it becomes available.

Employees must also be informed of their right to refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds which include bodily integrity, freedom of religion, belief and opinion, and an immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a previous dose or a known allergy to a component of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Workers must also be given an opportunity to request a consultation with a health and safety representative, worker representative, or trade union official.

Should an employee have a valid concern, employers must try and accommodate them such as through a remote working arrangement, or by allowing them to work at the office while wearing protective clothing.

Deputy secretary for strategy and sustainability at Solidarity, Paul Mardon, told Rapport that very few people will be able to submit valid reasons for refusing the shot.

Vaccine-hesitancy over distrust of the government or vaccine manufacturers will not be considered a valid reason, Mardon stated.

He also said that even if someone has an allergy, the risk of an allergic reaction will need to be weighed against the risk of a Covid-19 infection in the workplace.

Solidarity has said this week that it will take legal action against employers that dismiss employees for their choice not to be vaccinated.

Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said that vaccinations will play a major role in the fight against the virus globally.

Hermann stated that this is not about a for-or-against the vaccine debate, but about the freedom to choose.

“Forced vaccinations will rather cause more resistance,” Hermann argued.

“It is simply unlawful for an employer to unilaterally force an employee to be vaccinated, and one can even argue that it infringes on each individual’s right to bodily integrity. We will not hesitate to protect our members with the full power of the law, if employers make such drastic decisions.”

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