Threatened with dismissal or eviction for refusing Covid-19 jab? The SAHRC wants to know

Can an employer force employees to be vaccinated? The SA Human Right Commission wants to hear from all affected parties. File photo.
Can an employer force employees to be vaccinated? The SA Human Right Commission wants to hear from all affected parties. File photo.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) wants people who have been threatened with losing their jobs or rented accommodation for refusing to have a Covid-19 vaccine to come forward.

Gauteng commission head Buang Jones said they hoped this would get the ball rolling to determine the legalities around the issue.

“We are exploring all available legal options and would like to see how best we can address the situation with affected employees and the implicated employers,” Jones told TimesLIVE on Tuesday. 

“This is an intervention that seeks to protect rights and hear the position of employers on this very important issue.

“The commission is monitoring the rollout of the vaccines and has been encouraging people to take the vaccine.

“We have received complaints from people who have been told they will be dismissed or evicted from where they stay if they do not take the vaccine. These are people who have serious misgivings about the vaccine and they have reached out to the commission.”

While the commission was planning to hear from employees opting not to be vaccinated and employers who need to deal with them, there have been calls for the commission to also hear from those with comorbidities exposed to the risk of infection by unvaccinated co-workers. 

Jones said the commission was gathering submissions and would announce the way forward.

Last month, the labour and employment department issued directions on how employers should treat employee vaccinations in the workplace.

A consolidated direction on occupational health and safety measures issued by employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi said: “Employers should find a reasonable resolution that accommodates all parties where employees refuse to be vaccinated for medical and constitutional grounds.

“The key principle of these guidelines is that employers and employees should treat each other with mutual respect. A premium is placed on public health imperatives, the constitutional rights of employees and the efficient operation of the employer’s business.”

The guidelines stated an employer needed to include in its risk assessment whether it intended making vaccinations compulsory.

“This is a three-step inquiry. Firstly, it must make that assessment taking into account the operational requirements of the workplace. This means the direction does not make the vaccinations mandatory, but every employer must take into account its general duties under the Occupational Health Safety Act to provide a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees and persons, other than those in its employment who may be directly affected by its activities are not thereby exposed to hazards to their health or safety.

“Secondly, if the employer decides to make it mandatory once the risk assessment has been conducted, it must then identify which employees will be required to be vaccinated. In determining whether an employee can be required to be vaccinated, the employer must identify those employees whose work poses a risk of transmission or a risk of severe Covid-19 disease or death due to their age or comorbidities.

“In other words, not every employee poses such a risk — for example, workers who work from home or whose work is such that they do not come into close working contact with other workers or the public.

“Thirdly, having identified the employees who are required to be vaccinated, it must amend its plan to include the measures to implement the vaccination of those employees as and when Covid-19 vaccines become available in respect of those employees, taking into account the guidelines set out in annexure C of the June 2021 version of the direction.

“Given the phased nature of the national vaccination programme based on criteria determined by the national department of health from time to time, an employer may only make it an obligation once the employee becomes eligible under the programme for vaccination and has been registered on the electronic vaccination data system and given a date for vaccination.”

Nxesi said a balance needed to be found between keeping employees healthy and businesses running.


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