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Cornonavirus and Labour Law - Sick Leave, Annual Leave, or Unpaid Leave?

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Know whether isolation falls under sick leave, annual leave, or unpaid leave.

The coronavirus, known medically as COVID-19, has the entire world on its toes. As we are encouraged to isolate ourselves by the government and health officials, uncertainty has arisen as to whether this isolation should be seen as sick leave, annual leave, or no leave at all. Let's dive in and deal with this question briefly.


It is important to note that employers have a duty towards their employees to ensure that they have a safe and healthy environment to work in.

It is accordingly necessary for employers to educate their employees of the potential harm of corona virus and to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of their employees in the workplace.

The length and breadth of these steps will change from industry to industry, and from workplace to workplace.


The first step is to make the distinction between employees who are ill from the virus, employees who self-isolate as a precautionary measure, and employees who may have been exposed to the virus but who do not show any symptoms.


If the employee is showing symptoms of corona virus and stays home due to illness, sick leave would be applicable in this instance.

If this employee has utilized all of their sick leave they may be required to utilize annual leave or unpaid sick leave. In the case of unpaid sick leave, the employee may be able to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.


If no symptoms exist and an employee wishes to self-isolate as a precautionary measure, the employee would have no right to claim sick leave and may be required to self-isolate under annual leave.


The situation may become complicated if an employee is not ill but has been exposed to the virus and/or has the belief that he or she may become ill in the future.

This scenario would be complicated as the outcome will depend on whether the employer requires the employee to isolate or whether the employee decides to self-isolate of their own accord, whether the employee eventually becomes sick or whether the employee never shows signs of illness, and what the contractual arrangements between the parties are. This would need to be dealt with on a case by case basis as the specific facts would determine the specific outcome.

Despite the above, employers must keep in mind that allowing or alternatively requiring an employee to work while they have the ability to infect others may cause them to be liable should the virus spread and cause harm to the other employees.

It is important to note that each case must be dealt with on a case by case basis and that each issue is unique.

(The information and material published on this website is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.We accept no responsibility for any loss or damage, whether direct or consequential, which may arise from reliance on the information contained in this article.)

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