On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to have reached global pandemic level. This is, however, not the first of its kind. Whether it’s the Bubonic Plague of 1342 or in recent years the recurrent outbreaks of Ebola and Cholera across the African continent — diseases are not uncommon among our species.
But, if pandemics are tales as old as time, what makes COVID-19 so significant and how will it impact your life? It is essential to remember that all your Human Rights are protected by law no matter what is happening in the world. As Attorneys in Cape Town, we’re here to give you some insight. Hopefully, we can provide you with peace of mind by informing you of your Rights in these uncertain times.
Employers & Employees
Employers are under certain obligations and employees, in turn, have a set of rights. Here are a few rights and responsibilities you should know as an employer and an essential or non-essential worker:
1. Should a non-essential employee be able to continue working from home, they are to do so. You are entitled to full remuneration and benefits if you are working in the office or off-site.
2. If you work for a company that provides an essential service, you are obliged to continue working throughout the state mandated lockdown. It is the responsibility of your employer to provide a safe and sanitary working environment.
3. If you are an essential worker, your employer must provide you with a permit to allow your daily commute to and from work. The permit should feature the company’s letterhead and employer’s signature.
4. Your employer cannot force you to work during lockdown if you are a non-essential worker. However, they are legally obligated to implement a ‘no work, no pay’ policy. We suggest looking through your employment contract to review the terms and conditions.
Foreclosures, Eviction & Landlord-Tenant Laws
COVID-19 has taken a toll on the financial realities of many South Africans. If you are a landlord or tenant who is unable to pay rent during this pandemic, there are a few things you should know:
1. No tenant — living in formal or informal housing — can be evicted during the state’s implemented lockdown period. However, taking land lawfully (i.e. setting up structures or materials) can be stopped without a court order.
2. If you have suffered a loss of income, you must negotiate with your landlord on how to move forward. If your contract involves a ‘force majeure’ policy, you as the tenant are allowed to withhold rent. That is until you are once again able to perform under your contract.
3. Unless you’ve come to an agreement with your landlord, you will be expected to pay your rent as per usual.
4. During the lockdown, the courts will not be taking on eviction cases that involve non-payment due to the effects of COVID-19 on tenant’s financial statuses.
Debt Management & Bankruptcy
Debt is a significant issue for many South Africans. And most people have monthly debit orders to pay off loans and assets. Here are a few things you need to know about debt management during lockdown:
1. You have the right to assess your repayment plan with your creditors and prioritise certain payments while keeping the rest on hold. This is a better alternative than not paying without communicating and possibly facing penalties.
2. Creditors are now offering different payment options to help borrowers ease the burden of debt management throughout this period. Extending your repayment term or reducing interest rates are all options to enquire about when consulting creditors.
3. There are various relief funds available to businesses and individuals who are struggling financially. As attorneys in Cape Town we must warn you, however, to always be on the lookout for COVID-19 scams. You should never have to your account details over the phone or via email to access relief funds.
Family & Divorce Law
Parents who are separated or live in different areas will have a difficult time managing child visitation during the lockdown. It will have an adverse effect on custody arrangements. As attorneys in Cape Town, we are fit to advise you how to be navigate these issues as a separated parent:
1. Denying your co-parent visitation rights will not be permitted during lockdown and may result in contempt of court.
2. However, if your reason for preventing visitation is as follows:
Co-parent has a high-risk job (frequently exposed to COVID-19)
Exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19
Your child is a high-risk for COVID-19
You have the right to a temporary change in custody to prevent your child(ren) from being exposed to the virus.
3. Visitation of children between parents is now allowed, given that either home is a virus-free environment. Parents must provide permits or birth certificates to facilitate the visitation.
4. You have the right to modify your child support order if you have suffered a financial loss during this time. Discussing it with your co-parent is often the first step to take. But, if you cannot agree, you may have to file a motion with your local court.
Pensioners & Retirement Funds
Many South Africans have become concerned about the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak will have on one of their biggest investments: their retirement fund. Take note of the following points to save as much as you can during these times:
I1. Recent falls in the financial market could negatively affect your retirement savings invested in off-shore or local accounts. However, we advise against making impulsive decisions that could lead you with savings that fall short of your needs. 2. If you are able, it is essential, now more than ever, to stay on course with your savings and investments. The market is a flexible environment that has always recovered from economic trauma. 3. Should you have trouble with your retirement fund, we suggest contracting your financial consultants before changing your saving plans.
In a time of extreme uncertainty, it may be challenging to focus on our day to day responsibilities. However, in reality, it is these very things that allow us to stay level-headed. It is essential to update yourself on your Rights (and responsibilities) when the world faces extraordinary circumstances.
Knowing your rights during COVID-19 will help you, and those you care about, navigate through this crisis with a bit more ease. No matter what the occurrence, the law should always be there to work in your favour, especially during a pandemic.
Contact us today for more on the services we offer and how we can be of assistance in the regard of any legal issues you may face.
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