Financial services company Discovery will make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for its employees from next year.
In its latest financial results announcement, the company said it intends to move to a mandatory vaccination policy effective 1 January 2022 given its “clear moral and social obligation”, which was informed by its “core purpose to make people healthier and enhance and protect their lives”.
Discovery added its values encouraged it to act as a “force for social good, and supported by a legal obligation to protect and safeguard all employees from all potential risks.”
In a discussion with employees on the policy seen by MyBroadband, the company said there would be an “engaging and meaningful process” designed to first determine if employees who did not want to get vaccinated could be accommodated.
“This includes a process of understanding the basis of the decline to be vaccinated,” one employee was told.
In cases where no means of accommodating the employee is found and the basis of the decline is irritational, Discovery would move to separation (retrenchment).
Discovery currently has 12,950 employees across its healthcare, financial, and banking businesses.
The mandatory vaccination debate has divided the country.
Although some label it an infringement upon freedom of choice and bodily integrity, others argue that mass vaccination is key to lifting the country out of the lockdown.
Legal experts are also split on whether mandatory vaccination policies are permissible under South African law.
Law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr previously said no legal restrictions stopped South African businesses from enforcing compulsory vaccination policies for their workforces.
“The [Department of Labour’s] Directive has put an end to the debate as to whether a mandatory vaccination policy is legally permissible,” the law firm said.
The firm explained that any policies requiring mandatory vaccination should be assessed against the principle of reasonableness, meaning that the rights of employees to their bodily and religious freedoms and beliefs must be taken into account.
However, business organisation Sakeliga maintained there was no current legislation that is generally applicable to allow for the violation of a person’s right to bodily integrity.
Sakeliga CEO Piet le Roux said companies could negotiate employment contracts with mandatory vaccination policies, but there would have to be active agreement on the part of the employee and such a change could not be added after the fact.
Health minister Joe Phaahla recently said the government was in discussions over whether it should ban unvaccinated persons from using public amenities.
“The opinion we are getting from legal people, that once there is sufficient coverage we should be able to arrive at the stage where we can actually make demands even at public amenities,” Phaahla said.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it. You have the right to not have a vaccination, but you have no right to endanger the lives of other people.