Let’s face it; most of us need to work to put food on the table. Some of us are lucky enough to work for ourselves, but the rest of us have an employer who needs us to be productive in order to keep the business afloat.
In South Africa, workers may take the number of days they would normally work in a six-week period for sick leave on full pay in a three-year period. In the first six months that you work, however, you are entitled to one day’s paid sick leave for every 26 days that you worked.
But what if you have a disease that will keep you out of the office for much longer, and does this mean that your employer can fire you if you are forced by illness or disability to spend more time away from work?
Section 6 of the Employment Equity Act prohibits unfair discrimination against employees on the grounds of disability or illness. This basically means that an employer may not simply dismiss a sick employee, and is required to first consider treatment.
Here are five diseases or conditions that can cause you to exceed your normal sick leave:
- Back injuries and problems
Back pain is second only to headache as the most common cause of pain. It can be acute, intermittent or chronic and is mostly caused by minor injuries, slipped discs, facet joint problems or arthritis.
Sprains, strains and minor injuries do not involve serious damage and are often referred to as “simple” back pain. This usually lasts only a few days and is unlikely to keep you off work for more than a few days.
Intervertebral disc lesion, commonly known as a “slipped disc”, is the result of wear and tear or strain and may cause a spinal disc to bulge, tear or rupture (herniate). The disc’s gelatinous filling protrudes and presses against sensitive nerves from the spinal cord. The pain from a slipped disc may be severe enough to keep you from working for a long period of time.
- Mental illness
Between 1% and 3% of the South African population are likely to suffer from a mental health problem that’s severe enough to require hospitalization. Unipolar depression, alcohol use, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder are among the ten leading causes of disability world-wide.
Patients suffering from mental health problems like milder forms of depression can be effectively treated with medication, which will not interfere with productivity. In the case of more serious forms of mental disease, it may however be impossible for patient to work and require lengthy periods of absence.
- Heart disease and stroke
Heart disease and stroke are the number one killers in South Africa. One in three men and one in four women will suffer from cardiovascular disease before they are 60 years old.
Right now, the total direct and indirect costs related to death and disability from heart disease and stroke in this country exceed a whopping R8 billion per year.
When non-fatal, heart attacks and stroke often result in severe disability and consequent impoverishment for entire families when the affected person’s ability to work is compromised.
4. Cancer One in six South African men and one in seven South African women will get cancer during their lives.
Campaigning for Cancer is an advocacy organization that was formed in 2008 to give South African patients and those affected by cancer a voice.
The organization has collaborated with key stakeholders to develop a written Cancer@Work Programme, the first of its kind in South Africa, which offers amongst other things employer and employee workshops, step-by-step guides on handling cancer in the workplace and access to resources with information about legal rights relating to employment.
The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids) is caused by infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV attacks and gradually destroys the immune system, which protects the body against infections.
It may take years for a person’s immune system to deteriorate to such an extent that the person becomes ill. There are drugs that can dramatically slow down the disease in an infected person, so chances are that a worker’s HIV positive status will not influence their ability to perform a job.
If a person develops full-blown Aids they are susceptible to a range of opportunistic diseases which can compromise their ability to work. Employers may however not discriminate against workers on the basis of their HIV status.