What The Law Says About Employee Leave And Absence

What The Law Says About Employee Leave And Absence


Dealing with absent employees can be one of the most frustrating parts of managing your workforce when you are trying to run a tight ship.

This is especially true if you’re running a small business where there isn’t anyone else to pick up the slack when a key team member is away on planned or unplanned leave.

Yet employees are people with lives outside their day jobs and should be treated with understanding when they need time off.

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They can get pregnant, fall ill, take time off to further their studies, or be called away from work for family reasons. And of course, everyone needs an occasional holiday and is entitled to one under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA).

Here’s what South African labour law has to say about the leave to which your employees are entitled each year:

Sick leave

Employees are entitled to 30 days of paid sick leave in a three-year employment cycle. During the first six months of employment, an employee is allowed one day’s paid sick leave for every 27 days worked.

Explain to employees that they won’t be penalised for legitimate use of their sick leave. When an employee is genuinely ill, it is better for him or her not to come to work.

Time off will help the employee to recuperate faster and prevent him or her from spreading germs around the office.

That doesn’t mean that you should tolerate abuse of sick leave by employees who want to take a few bonus long weekends.

Remember that you have the right to insist on a medical certificate when an employee is absent for more than two consecutive days or on more than one occasion during an eight-week period.

If you have someone who is regularly on sick leave on a Monday or Friday, and who is unable to produce a medical certificate to prove illness, you may take disciplinary action against him or her.

Be sure that you closely follow the processes in South African labour law when you discipline an employee for abusing his or her sick leave entitlement.

Family responsibility leave

The law provides for at least three days per year of paid time off for certain family-related events, such as becoming a father, the illness of a child, or the death of a close family member.

You can offer employees a bigger allocation of family responsibility leave if you wish. You also have the right to insist on proof of the event, such as a medical or death certificate.

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Maternity leave

business-womanFemale employees are entitled to four months of unpaid maternity leave, though some employers offer longer maternity leave and choose to pay women for the time they take off to look after a newly born child.

In the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth, your employee will be entitled to at least six weeks’ maternity leave afterwards.

Help your employees to more easily access their maternity benefits from the UIF by submitting your monthly returns via uFiling. This will allow your employees to submit their claims online.

The law does not, as yet, prescribe a minimum requirement for paternity leave. You could accommodate new fathers by establishing a paternity leave company policy or just provide the bare minimum three days off (classified as Family Responsibility Leave).

Annual leave

An individual who is employed full time is entitled to at least three weeks of paid leave per year.

In addition to legal compliance and care for their people, smart employers encourage their people to take leave when they need it because it simply makes business sense.

Going on holiday is good for employees’ health, emotional stability and overall happiness, which in turn helps them to perform at their best at work.

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Though employees are entitled to leave each year, you have discretion about when you allow them to take it.

Many industries shut down over December; in this case, you may force employees to take the bulk of their leave during this time of the year. And, of course, you can turn down leave if someone requests leave during a busy period such as financial year-end.

Madelein Taljaard
Madelein Taljaard is an expert in areas of employee tax and legislative changes affecting payroll. Madelein joined Sage Pastel Payroll & HR in 2000. She is currently Group R&D Development Manager for Sage Australia, Asia, Middle East and Africa, as well as Senior Product Manager for Sage Pastel Payroll & HR. She is responsible for the development of Sage Pastel Payroll & HR software as well as Sage Pastel Accounting’s desktop products. In addition, she manages the integration of Sage Pastel desktop products in South Africa into other Sage initiatives like Sage Pay. Madelein has a BCom in financial management and has 16 years’ experience in personal income tax and employee tax.