The sales manager you employed just over three weeks ago announces she is pregnant and is going to take maternity leave for four months. You have only recently implemented your revised sales strategy, and this news could not come at a more inopportune time for your business. Worse still, a month after she has her baby and returns to work, she declares she is resigning. What recourse do you have? Questions surrounding pregnancy, work and maternity leave can be confounding. Pregnant employees and employees on maternity leave have rights given them by legislation. But what are those rights, and what are an employer’s obligations?
First off, says Sean Snyman, a founder member of Labournet Holdings, it’s important to remember that the law protects women against unfair discrimination arising from any form of prejudice. “An employer may not ask a candidate who applies for a job if she is pregnant, nor if she is planning to start a family at any stage. If you do, she could argue that you are discriminating against her.
“Equally, she is in no way obliged to disclose her pregnancy when applying for a position. The bottom line is that it has nothing to do with the candidate’s ability to meet the requirements of the position. And nothing stops her from resigning once she has returned to work after taking maternity leave. She has rights regardless.”
The Basic Conditions of Employment Act stipulates that an employee is entitled to four months unpaid maternity leave. All that is required is a notification by the employee that she is pregnant, accompanied by a doctor’s certificate.
This leave should start four weeks before the expected date of birth, or when a doctor or midwife certifies that leave is necessary for the health of the mother or child. An employee must notify her employer in writing of the date on which she wants to start maternity leave. She may not work for six weeks after delivery, unless she is declared fit to do so.
An employee who has a miscarriage during the last three months of pregnancy or who bears a stillborn child is also entitled to six weeks maternity leave, whether or not she has started maternity leave at the time.
“Companies in South Africa are not obliged by law to provide paid maternity leave,” says Snyman. A female employee who works for a company that does not offer maternity benefits can claim from the Maternity Benefit Fund if she has been contributing to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
Are there different criteria for small-to-medium businesses and large companies? No, says Snyman. The same laws apply across the board, regardless of the size of the business. “But this is where the benefits of working for a large company come in. Bigger organisations can afford to offer their employees paid maternity leave,” he adds. “Also important is that length of service is irrelevant – all employees have the same rights from the moment they start working for a company.”
An employer who pays maternity leave does have some rights, however. Paid maternity leave is a benefit, and the company is within its rights to conclude a contract with the employee stating that if she does not return to work for at least one year following her confinement, she will be obliged to return the salary she earned during her maternity leave.
South Africa has no paternity leave provisions in place, but workers who have been employed at a company for longer than four months may take three days’ paid family responsibility leave during each year of employment, on request, when the worker’s child is born or sick, or for the death of the worker’s spouse or life partner, parent, adoptive parent, grandparent, child, adopted child, grandchild or sibling. The employer may want proof that this leave was needed. “It’s important to ensure your company has a maternity leave policy in place, and that employees are familiar with it,” Snyman says. “This will help to avoid any unnecessary murkiness around these potentially inflammatory issues.”
|Creating a maternity leave policy
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Why You Should Consider Retrenchment Cover for Your Employees
Not sure if a retrenchment benefit is for you? Keep reading for more insight into why considering retrenchment cover for your employees is best for them and you
As a business owner, looking after your employees is an important part of what makes your business a success. You need to be sure that all of their needs are being met, especially in terms of income protection and retrenchment insurance.
If you’re lucky, you may never need to retrench anyone, but if you do, having retrenchment insurance in South Africa can help your employees immensely in keeping debt at bay.
You can invest in retrenchment cover in South Africa in order to protect your staff. The retrenchment cover can provide your employees with a lump sum which allows your employees to manage any issues that might crop up while they are unemployed. It will also help with temporary disability cover should an employee be injured at the workplace.
Not sure if a retrenchment benefit is for you? Keep reading for more insight into why considering retrenchment cover for your employees is best for them and you.
It Can Help to Replace Their Income
If one of your staff members is the sole breadwinner in their household, being retrenched can have a devastating effect on their family’s way of living. If you offer them the option of income protection cover, this will replace their income while they are looking for other employment.
This will also help if they have permanent disability due to an accident at work and are unable to earn a salary for a certain amount of time. The benefit pays up to six months of income so that the insured can cover expenses. For example, your employees can use this money to make car insurance payments or rent payments while they are unemployed. This can help them to look for work without having the added stress of not earning any money.
Employees Can Maintain Their Savings Accounts
By offering retrenchment cover, you are allowing your employees to have better financial planning abilities, such as maintaining their savings accounts despite no longer being employed.
Your employees will be able to keep this savings account intact and rely on this money for its intended purpose. They can also keep this money in the account and use it when the income protector cover has run out and they are still unemployed. Be sure to speak to a financial adviser about how long your employees will be covered in order to adequately make plans for their future.
Planning for VAT and Petrol Increases
When you are unemployed, any increase in prices such as petrol or VAT can negatively affect your financial situation, so it’s preferable that your employees are able to weather any price increases without having to dip into their savings, or take out a loan they can’t afford.
But retrenchment cover will allow them to continue living their life, unaffected, regardless of these changes. While they might have to cut back on their spending, a VAT increase will not affect them as harshly as it would if they did not have any income protection. Being able to prepare for an uncertain future will ensure that your employees are happy and satisfied in their jobs, cementing their loyalty to your company.
It Can Help with Illnesses During Retrenchment
We can never predict what awaits us in life, which is why you should consider retrenchment insurance for your employees. If they were to become ill during the time they are retrenched, expensive medical bills will pile up, putting them into a further debilitating financial situation.
But, if your employees have retrenchment insurance, they will be able to use this money to pay for medical expenses. For example, if one of your employees has young children who need to be rushed to the hospital for an injury or illness, the retrenchment cover will allow them to pay for these bills without too much stress. Being ill while unemployed can become expensive and stressful, but you can alleviate this stress by providing cover for your employees.
It Will Show Them You Care
Having an employer who truly cares about them means that employees will be happier, healthier and more productive. And this is great news for your business. You can ensure that your employees are taken care of if you need to retrench them due to whatever reason.
Having loyal employees is not only good for your company but good for your employee morale too. You are only successful as a business if your employees are happy and willing to work hard to reach your company goals.
Retrenchment cover will allow them to be less stressed in their positions and will make your workplace a more productive one. Be sure to consult with your staff before making any financial decisions that will affect their future as their opinions matter the most in this instance.
Charity Begins At Home This Festive Season
3 Ways to invest in your own employees.
We often only think of corporate social investment (CSI) as an organisation’s actions in the surrounding communities (philanthropy and volunteering), but CSI is also inward facing. By promoting employee well-being, your business can be a vehicle for change, not only in the society around it, but also directly in the lives of those working there.
Here are some ways you can invest in your own employees during the festive season:
1. Involve your employees in a higher purpose
This might sound like a bit of circular reasoning, but studies have shown that involving employees in CSI activities has several benefits. People involved in meaningful activities tend to be more motivated and willing to go that extra mile because of the higher good associated with the work. CSI programmes also:
- Increase co-operative behaviour and employee relationships
- Enhance the sense of company identity
- Improve employee retention and commitment
- Create an attractive company culture.
2. Provide the space for physical and mental breaks
The end-of-year and festive period is often a very stressful period. Balancing festive and family duties with increased pressure at work due to colleagues taking leave, looming year-end targets and planning for the next year can take a toll.
You, as the employer, can ease this stress by ensuring that there are systems in place that define holiday working policies. Promote time and productivity management to plan workflows and keep the momentum going in these last weeks of the year. Also make sure you have effective communication strategies in place for plans that are in the pipeline for the new year, so that employees can get their heads around upcoming changes. This will allow employees to plan ahead and build in time to switch off, knowing that all of the boxes have been ticked.
3. Constructive feedback/motivation
Also, take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for the hard work that your staff has put in throughout the year. As the saying goes “valued employees are valuable employees.”
How Medical Savings Accounts Are Changing – For The Better
By Jeremy Yatt, Principal Officer of Fedhealth
The concept of medical savings accounts (MSA) emerged in the industry in the early 1990s, reputedly when Discovery founder Adrian Gore was working at Liberty. At that time medical scheme benefits for different kinds of day-to-day healthcare were specified, so for example, you’d get a certain amount of Rands to spend on your over-the-counter medicine, or for optometry services. But this was problematic, as people’s daily medical needs are all so different. So, you’d have medical aid members calling their medical schemes saying, “I haven’t used my spectacle limit this year, so can I transfer it to use on medication instead?”.
The idea for MSAs was to pool these separate benefits into a total Rand amount, that you could then spend how you wanted, and more importantly, retain if you didn’t use them all. Initially, medical schemes were reluctant to follow this idea, as they thought it would lead to under-servicing: medical aid members might be unwilling to spend their savings, and so might not get the proper day-to-day medical attention until it became a crisis and they were hospitalised. However this was not the case, and MSAs proved very popular.
At first, there was no real limit on how much of your contributions as a member could go into your MSA, so most schemes allocated around 40-50%. Many schemes also pushed major medical procedures like MRI scans into savings, which was effectively a way of forcing members to self-fund these costly medical expenses. As a result, the Medical Schemes Act was amended in 1998 to impose a 25% limit on the benefits that could be put into MSAs, which largely forced the schemes to be responsible for these major costs.
Under the previous structure there was no disincentive not to use your benefits, particularly as they didn’t roll over from year to year like Medical Savings do. It was therefore not uncommon for a call centre to get queries from members asking how much was available in their different benefit areas, so that they could make sure they used them all up.
MSAs solved these sorts of problems by giving medical aid members increased convenience and autonomy, which is why schemes have been using them for the past 20+ years.
The concept of an MSA isn’t far removed from a loan. Like a loan, an MSA lets you use a sum of money when you want to, but you still have to pay for it regardless of whether you use it or not. It forms part of the registered gross contribution to the medical scheme. Take the example of a member who has R12 000 they can access in their MSA each year. Effectively they are paying for this “loan”, contributing R1000 a month, starting in January. However an MSA means they can use all of that R12 000 upfront, such as if they need expensive dental treatment (crowns etc.) at the start of February that costs R12 000.
In this situation, the member has only paid for R1000 worth of that R12 000 “loan” (with their January contribution), so they effectively “owe” the medical scheme R11 000, which they then pay off over the remainder of the year. If the member left the scheme straight after their dental work, the scheme would then contact the member to repay the R11 000, as they still owe that amount.
The concept of giving members access to medical financing led us to develop our new MediVault offering for day-to-day medical expenses. Describing it as a loan holds negative connotations for some, but it’s not that different from the concept of an MSA: in fact, we see the MediVault as a natural evolution. All it means is that you won’t need to pay for day-to-day savings upfront. Instead, you’ll be allocated money for these everyday medical expenses in your personal MediVault and, once you’ve taken the money out, you only have to pay it back over a period of 12 months – completely interest-free. This is a far better option than taking out an expensive loan from a traditional loan company, or getting it from an unscrupulous loan shark.
Our MediVault offering is not at all about loaning funds to people irresponsibly. We’re not creating a monster that’s going to indebt you – we’re just changing the way you can access funds for your healthcare. After all, health is everyone’s most worthwhile investment, and we want to give people the flexibility to make it their top priority.
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