On 13 August 2020, the long-awaited Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme ("TERS") Extension Direction was gazetted, allowing employers or employees to claim UIF Coronavirus (COVID-19) TERS benefits for the extended period of 1 July 2020 until 15 August 2020. The UIF will start processing these benefits from Monday, 17 August 2020, according to a media statement. However, the UIF may require additional procedural prescripts for these claims.
Only three main categories of employees fall within the new Direction's ambit and are legible to claim the extended TERS benefit. These are employees whose employers are:
- not permitted to commence operations under the Disaster Management Regulations;
- unable to make alternative arrangements for vulnerable workers; and
- unable to utilise their services either fully or partially due to operational requirements caused by compliance with Regulations.
In respect of the second category of employees, only vulnerable employees (ie those with comorbidities and/or who are over the age of 60) who cannot be accommodated will be entitled to access the TERS benefit. Employers should not use the TERS as a default position in an effort to avoid having to accommodate their vulnerable workforce. Where an employer can implement special measures to ensure the safety of its vulnerable employees, it should. Special measures could include remote working, staggered working hours to avoid peak traffic on the road and in the office, increased social distancing or isolation of vulnerable employees. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and employers should ensure that they have explored all options before claiming to be unable to accommodate vulnerable employees and relying on the TERS.
In respect of the third category of employees, these employees may find themselves in such a position due to rostering, staggering of working hours, short time, and the introduction of shift systems by their employers. In this regard, the Disaster Management Regulations require businesses and other institutions with more than 100 employees to, where possible, make provision for minimising the number of employees at the workplace at any given time through rotation, staggered working hours, shift systems, remote working arrangements or similar measures, in order to achieve social distancing and to limit congestion in public transport and at the workplace.
As was the case previously, the minimum benefit that employees will receive is ZAR3 500 and employees will not be entitled to receive a TERS benefit if the total of the benefit, together with any remuneration paid by the employer for work performed by the employee in any period, is more than the remuneration that the employee would ordinarily have received for working during that period.
Remuneration has been defined broadly to align with the definition in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997 ("BCEA"). Remuneration means any payment in money or in kind or both in money and in kind, made or owing to any person in return for that person working for any other person, including the State. The BCEA lists specific inclusions and exclusions. For example, remuneration, in accordance with the BCEA, now includes employer's contributions to medical aid, pension, provident fund or similar schemes.
In a media statement, the UIF stated that the cut-off date for the application window for April and May will be 15 September 2020. All new applications for these periods must be uploaded on or before this date to qualify for processing and payment. Existing claims will remain open for corrections and finalisation beyond this date.
The UIF has endeavored to issue a letter to employers who have applied for TERS benefits outlining the process to be followed when making applications for the extension period.
An updated FAQ document, new Direction and explanatory memorandum is on the Department of Employment and Labour's website.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.