Nicol Myburgh

No work. No pay. The COVID-19 Salary Crisis.

Companies have been facing tough decisions over the past few months, particularly those with employees who cannot work during the crisis

The South African lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on industry, market and business. Many organisations were unable to open or function during the first two levels (four and five) of the lockdown, while others were in limbo until level two. This has severely impacted their revenue and their employees. Over the past five months, there have been several court cases brought against companies that have instituted a ‘No Work, No Pay’ policy and these have had mixed results in court. One case was enforced and a restaurant had to pay its employees in spite of their being unable to work. Another was not – the court found that employees were not entitled to pay if they did not work, even though it was through no fault of their own. It’s a minefield, one that has put both employee and company under pressure.

“Employment at its most basic level is defined as employees hired to render their services in return for payment,” says Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit. “Employees are required to work and companies are required to provide work. Now, during the pandemic, a third party has stepped in and said – nobody can leave the house and companies can’t operate. This has created a situation of force majeure for many organisations where they don’t have work and employees can’t work.”

The result is, quite simply, that the company is under no obligation to pay its employees while it is being prevented from creating work for those employees. However, there are options. This is not a dead-end situation that leaves both company and employee without the ability to minimise the impact of no work, no pay.

Not all employers have the funds to pay their staff

“Firstly, I would recommend that employees take their accrued annual leave as this is paid and they’re entitled to it,” says Myburgh. “They are under no obligation to take it and most employers are obliged to provide it, but if they have a heart, then this is a solid choice for both parties. Another option is to allow for employees to go into a negative balance of annual leave which they can accrue at a later stage. This is a risky move for the employer, however, as there is no guarantee that the company will get it back.”

The problem is that not all employers have the funds to pay their staff for this leave. Many companies keep their leave provision in a separate account, but many don’t. This means that they may be unable to pay out the leave options outlined above. That said, there is the choice to offer employees special leave – they are paid to stay at home but this is not taken from their annual leave nor is it classified as negative leave. For organisations that can’t afford these options, the funds offered by the government have been developed specifically to support organisations and employees as they find their feet in the coming months.

“The last option may not be as swift and seamless as a company salary, but it is one that can support people as they suddenly have to live with no salaries until the lockdown restrictions are eased,” concludes Myburgh. “The situation is far from ideal, but unfortunately the steps taken by government during this global crisis have had an unprecedented impact on everyone and the future is far from certain, even now.”

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Best practice for back to work in the pandemic

Best practice for back to work in the pandemic

COVID-19 introduces regulatory and ethical challenges to companies and employees returning to work

Stringent regulations and careful planning define the approaches of organisations and employees returning to the workplace in the pandemic. Employers have to prepare the work environment in line with existing regulations and must provide specific equipment to ensure safety and compliance.

According to Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, companies need to develop a workplace readiness document that offers relevant guidance, as well as a workplace readiness plan that includes risk assessments, risk profiles and the systems needed to resolve any challenges or issues.

“It’s important to assess the risk-readiness of a company and allocate risk levels to different areas,” he adds. “For example, healthcare is usually high-risk so more systems need to be put in place to ensure the safety of medical professionals and staff. Other workplaces are low-risk so they need only meet the basic legal requirements for workplace safety.”

According to existing regulations, employers must provide every employee with two cloth face masks. They may not allow employees to perform any duties or enter the premises if they’re not wearing the appropriate covering. Employers that don’t enforce these regulations are liable for a hefty fine, six months’ imprisonment or both.

Precise workplace planning parameters

“Three different areas within the business must be considered – engineering, administrative and safety,” says Myburgh. “Engineering controls cover the physical workspaces, including physical barriers and elements that need to be put in place. Administrative controls include contact tracing and screening when people come into the office. Safety controls focus on ensuring that people are aware of the rules, keeping social distances, and wearing the PPE provided.”

In addition to these very precise workplace planning parameters, it’s good to include easily accessible sanitation stations throughout the workplace. Put rules in place that address the different requirements between low-risk and high-risk areas. Not all parts of the business are created equal so it’s important to ensure that staff have clear guidelines that they can follow to ensure their wellbeing.

“These guidelines can include something as simple as only allowing one person in the kitchen at a time, to more in-depth rules that define workplace disinfection controls at the start or end of the day and banning the use of air-conditioners until the filters have been changed,” says Myburgh. “Put policies in place around discrimination as well. No company can allow abuse of employees who catch the disease.”

Provide screening forms, checklists, medical condition disclosure processes, and ensure that temperatures are checked every day. Then, if the worst happens, ensure that you have protocols in place that define sick leave or quarantine restrictions and provide reassurance to employees. Finally, appoint a COVID-19 manager or representative who is in charge of ensuring that this all happens seamlessly, communicating to employees and management any changes or challenges in the process.

“From risk to engineering to sanitation and safety – all these elements are mandatory in the provision of a safe and compliant workplace during the pandemic,” concludes Myburgh. “By creating a plan, giving someone responsibility for its delivery, and emphasising adherence at every turn, you are creating a safe space for your people where they can work productively and healthily.”

The Ethical Implications of Employee Tracking

The Ethical Implications of Employee Tracking

Remote work. Remote people. And a complete lack of visibility. At what point does the company start watching?

Picture this. A busy office, people bustling. A few are in the kitchen grabbing a coffee and a catch-up, some are in meetings, others are sitting at their desks typing or on the phone. Managers and executives walking through the office have almost complete visibility into what people are doing and how they are doing it. IT restrictions and access limitations reduce the risks of social media distraction, and policy and regulations minimise the impact of inappropriate website and email. Then, suddenly, the picture changes and the office is empty. The work is being done from home. Or is it?

“It’s been a stark and dramatic change in work environment and responsibility,” says Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit. “People are working from kitchen counters, home studies and lounge suites. They’re waking up and heading into the virtual office in pyjamas. The world is online, and organisations that resisted remote working for years are living out their worst fears – will the work get done? Will the employee deliver? How do I know they’re not watching Netflix?”

For some companies, trust has become critical. Employees have been given trust and space and allowed to reach their goals without consistent monitoring and assessments. Others have gone big brother – installing monitoring tools and surveillance apps onto laptops and devices to ensure that their people are doing the work and not disobeying the rules. It’s a hard-line approach that doesn’t necessarily win employee favour or trust, but that is, unfortunately, entirely legal.

If employees are using company equipment then the company is entitled to monitor what happens on it,” says Myburgh. “They can implement tracking tools and monitoring software onto the laptops that have been provided to the employees and they can completely track exactly what the employee is doing on these devices. They belong to the company and are intended for work purposes so this level of surveillance is allowed.”

Laws about tracking employees do not extend to video

An uncomfortable thought. But one that shouldn’t bother the employee that does the work, delivers the goods and steadily meets their KPIs and uses the company equipment. However, this does change if the employee has used their own personal devices to continue working from home. Then, the company needs a court order to access any information on these devices. They belong to the employee and any activity that’s taken place on them is theirs alone.

“It’s generally a good idea for companies to stay away from secret monitoring tools that track their movements and behaviours,” says Myburgh. “If it’s absolutely necessary to monitor employee behaviour, consider using transparent and visible tools such as online timesheets which everyone can see and assess. It’s not particularly fair to watch an employee’s every move.”

The laws about tracking employees do not extend to video. Activating a laptop camera to watch employees and their activity opens the door to a long line of ethical questions that generally result in one response – that’s not okay. There are so many rules and regulations that already surround employee conduct and managing misconduct and ensuring that both company and employee are respected that the best solution is the one that asks for honesty and trust without heavy-handed control.

“People need recognition, clarity and engagement so that they remain involved in the company and committed to working for it,” concludes Myburgh. “Rather focus on these factors than on their every move and tweet. A great example of this is how NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) treated its cleaners – their work was seen as critical to the success of every mission because without clean floors and spaces, the work wouldn’t get done. The result? Passionate people who felt part of a team. This is a far better approach than secret software and monitoring.”

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Tea? should your company pay for your expenses while you work from home?

Coffee? Tea? Internet? Should your company pay for your expenses while you work from home?

This is what your company should pay when you work from home

There are regulations and rules that protect both employer and employee when it comes to costs, tools and behaviours, but these are being tested in entirely new ways with the 2020 pandemic. It’s a perfectly legitimate question for any employee to ask for financial support when they’re working from home, using their internet and electricity to do their jobs. It’s equally legitimate for companies to query the extent of these costs at a time when budgets and economies are tight. According to Sandra Maritz, Legislation Consultant at CRS Technologies, employers are obliged to provide employees with the tools they need to perform their duties, but what the employer ends up paying for will differ from company to company.

“The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) requires an employer to provide an employee with the tools they need and this can include internet, data, stationary and the like, where applicable,” says Maritz. “The employer may require that the employee then provide proof of the data capacity on their devices and the proof of payment for the data if they are going to reimburse it. If data isn’t exclusively used for the business, for example, the costs should be calculated and shared.”

Provision for home office expenses

The employer isn’t required to provide staff with a subsidy for coffee, tea, cleaning materials, or telephones, however, expenses such as rent or bond interest, or premise repairs may be claimed from SARS (South African Revenue Service) as a tax deduction. The latter expects the employee to meet rigorous qualifying conditions, however, this is not a guaranteed payment either. While SARS does make provision for home office expenses, this is only allowed under certain conditions – the employee must spend more than 50% of their working hours working from home and must have done so for a minimum period of six months in a tax year.  They also need to have an area of the home exclusively used for a home office – not the dining room or lounge – and it must be fitted with the relevant tools.

“I think it’s safe to say that a company may be willing to pay for the total cost of the data or internet connection, and they may even be willing to pay an allowance for coffee or tea or cleaning materials, but working out the percentages on these would be difficult,” says Maritz. “It’s very unlikely that they’ll pay for a percentage of the rent or house bond or electricity. That said, these payments will vary from company to company.”

Some companies may be willing to provide their people with extra Rands to cover some of the expenses of working from home, some may do the bare minimum. Employers are not required to do more than what’s defined by the BCEA, and some may not be able to due to financial constraints, but ultimately it will depend on the company, the employee and their unique remote working situation.

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Ian McAlister GM CRS Technologies

Setting up for the new normal 

The world is changing its approach to work and business, but this doesn’t mean an end to efficiency and growth.

It’s a time when the world is busy defining a new normal. A new way of working, living and engaging that’s shifting the boundaries of work and the limitations of business. While the term ‘new normal’ may be annoying, the reality is not. Armed with masks, sanitiser and social distancing, companies and employees are navigating murky waters into an extremely uncertain future. Fortunately, there are positives that have emerged from lockdowns and isolation, and one of them is the rapid evolution of technology solutions that allow companies to adapt more effectively.

“Remote implementation has moved from a high-risk endeavour that companies tried to avoid to become something that’s hugely relevant to the business right now,” says General Manager of CRS, Ian McAlister. “The technology and the expertise that now come with remote implementations are light years ahead of what most companies realise – you can install an entire HR or ERP system without ever setting foot on a property.”

This is, in light of growing concerns over the length of the pandemic and the restrictions that surround it, a reliable way for organisations to continue their infrastructure investment and development without unnecessary risk. It also engenders richer corporate engagement in the actual process and the results are far more integrated as a result.

Using the best resources for the job

“We’ve found that clients are more involved than with on-site implementations, which means they have a better understanding of how the system works and what it can do,” says McAlister. “This means that they are more productive, faster, and the installation process is far more efficient.”

Remote installations do need to follow the same rigorous process as any project. This includes clear guidelines and deliverables, foundational project principles embedded into process and deadlines, and ensuring that the company is using the best resources for the job. This is the time to work with companies that have experience with remote installations and offer ongoing support.

“Upgrades, maintenance and patching need to be as easily managed as the actual install,” concludes McAlister. “And you need to make sure that security is baked into the solution. This is critical right now – remote installs require that another company is being given unfettered access to your systems so you need to work with a trusted partner that will not put your company at risk.”

baby boomer

Generation R

The global pandemic has kickstarted the growth of an entirely new generation, and it has nothing to do with age…

If anyone were to try to guess which generation was most likely to thrive in the pandemic lockdown, other than Generation X, few would have thought it would be the much-maligned Boomers. Even fewer would have believed that the generation that would struggle the most was the Millennial. The digital natives didn’t find comfort in digital isolation. However, within the tropes of Gen X, Millennial and Boomer has emerged a new generation, one that isn’t determined by age but by the pandemic – Generation R.

This generation is defined as those individuals who have proactively prepared for the new normal of work – learning new skills, how to use remote tools, achieving goals, and being more effective with time,” says Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit. “The jury is still out on whether this concept is real – it’s just remote work – but there are nuggets of truth within it.”

These nuggets are the need for individuals to find ways of evolving their skillsets and abilities to achieve outcomes and work goals in environments that are not tightly controlled. It’s difficult for some people to find productivity in a remote setting, but those who can, are exceptional at it. They work long hours, shift the boundaries of work and play, and engage across multiple platforms and channels.

Millennial generation

“Of course, there are also those who aren’t performing well,” adds Myburgh. “This tends to be the Millennial generation who is caught watching TV rather than working. But that’s only the minority. For the most part, people are prioritising their lives around the lockdown and building new ways of engaging across the personal and professional spheres. Because, within the two extremes of the workaholic and the work averse, is the need for balance.”

It’s a very real challenge. People are working from home so the lines are immediately blurred. They can be contacted on an instant messaging platform, their phones or computers, and in their lounges, kitchens and bedrooms. Spaces that were once reserved for living are now being overtaken by working. The Generation R individual needs to be defined by more than a strong work ethic; they need to be defined by their ability to create balance.

“There are those who send emails at 10pm and then send messages if they don’t get an immediate reply,” says Myburgh. “Managers who expect their employees to jump at every shout, day or night. Generation R is wonderful, but only if there’s balance and, for most, this doesn’t exist.”

Concept of Generation R

To find the even keel within the pandemic storm, companies need to enable better work-from-home environments and management methods. Employees need a work setup that includes a desk, laptop, comfortable chair and connectivity. Then they need to know how to use all the underlying platforms to support day-to-day working. And, perhaps most importantly, everybody needs to stick to working hours.

“Office hours are contractually mandated and there are limitations on when people should work. No employer should be forcing people to do more than they are contracted to do,” says Myburgh. “Organisations need to recognise and reinforce this so that people can achieve balance and the potential that’s laid out in the concept of Generation R.

The benefit of this approach is that employees will have the freedom to invest in personal growth which, in turn, hands the business access to an increasingly skilled workforce. People who have the time to focus on what they want to do and explore skills they didn’t know they could do, are going to be the engaged and empowered employees who take supportive organisations into a far more productive future.

Generation R may not be a thing – yet – but the one fact that has emerged from the pandemic is that generation means very little in the end,” concludes Myburgh. “What matters is the ability to use any complex or challenging situation to grow as a person and adapt to an uncertain future. This is the generation that should be on the organisation’s radar – one that’s agile, adaptive and capable of balance.”

Ian McAlister GM CRS Technologies

Opportunity doesn’t knock, anymore

The global pandemic has had a magnificent impact on industry, economy and organisation

There is an old saying that goes, “listen when opportunity knocks”. Today, in the wake of the global pandemic, opportunity isn’t so much knocking as knocking about. It’s there, but organisations have to go out and find it. The challenges, the changes, the uncertainty – these have all made the COVID-19 pandemic hard to manage for many companies and individuals, but there is optimism within this. In fact, according to the General Manager of CRS, Ian McAlister, there are lessons that can be learned from the pandemic that will have a positive impact in the long term.

“Necessity is, as the other old saying goes, the mother of all invention,” he says. “We were forced into this situation, organisations were forced to be different and to explore new ways of doing things, and it turned out that many of these changes were far easier than anyone expected. The world just needed a nudge in the right direction.”

Innovation and ingenuity emerging from the crisis

While the pandemic is more of a shove than a nudge, the innovation and ingenuity emerging from the crisis are a testament to the fact that the world can adapt when it needs to. Opportunities have emerged from the strangest of places, forcing businesses to adopt new approaches and ways of working in order to take advantage of them.

“In our industry in particular there have been seismic shifts in approach to employee and workforce management,” McAlister continues. “Due to a suddenly distributed workforce, HR platforms and leaders had to adopt new ways of communicating with employees and new technologies. The old noticeboard in the canteen definitely wasn’t going to cut it anymore. As a result, systems and technologies have become essential to ensure richer communications that are collaborative and two-way.”

The first half of the pandemic was defined by the dust. Dust kicked up by feet scrambling to put in place the technology and the systems needed for remote working and rigid lockdown conditions. These were cobbled together with wishes and legacy technology and were fine for the first few months, but are now in dire need of a revisit so they can deliver sustainable business systems and processes for the long term. It has become critical for companies to take the lessons learned in the first few months and apply them to processes and methodologies, fine-tuning them to make them into standard practice.

Invest in solutions that will always get the business the results it wants

“This is not just a stop gap or an interim patch, not anymore,” says McAlister. “This situation is going to stay for a while and we need solutions that will work for the long term. As we move into the fifth month of lockdown, we need to look at how we can refine systems to get the right results. As the virus is going to be with us for a while, don’t keep cobbling systems together. Instead, invest in solutions that will always get the business the results it wants.”

Currently, many companies find themselves in a push-and-pull situation where they are struggling to decide what needs to become a permanent fixture and what needs to stay as it is. Overall, the best step is to rather focus on what can pull the business forward, what systems can be leveraged over the long term, and how to use the technologies and systems put in place at speed to deliver results at pace.

“Now is not the time to sit and see what’s going to happen or wait until the storm blows over,” concludes McAlister. “Now is the time to prepare for the impossible, the uncertain scenarios that are coming. Like yet another old cliché – plan for the worst but expect the best. Technology is here to steer us all through the hard times, but you need a solid hand at the tiller and a commitment to using the unexpected to find opportunity and leverage it for growth.”

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Occupationally acquired COVID-19

Refusing to work over COVID-19 fears

With the daily COVID-19 infection rate in South Africa increasing rapidly, many employees are having second thoughts on whether they should be returning to an office environment. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, discusses the circumstances that may arise where refusing to work is believed to be the only safe option available.

“From a legal perspective, an employee may refuse to perform any work if circumstances arise which, with reasonable justification, appear to pose an imminent and serious risk of their exposure to the coronavirus,” says Myburgh.

Due process

Of course, this does not absolve employees of their responsibility to follow proper protocol, he says. “An employee who has refused to return to work must, as soon as it is reasonably practicable, notify the employer either personally or through a health and safety representative of their refusal to come to work, and provide their reasons.”

The employer must then consult with the compliance officer and any health and safety committee and endeavour to resolve any issue that may arise from the exercise of this right. Fundamentally, no person may threaten to take any action against an employee because that person has exercised or intends to exercise the right to refuse to work for a justifiable reason.

“This means that the organisation cannot dismiss, discipline, prejudice, or harass someone for refusing to perform any work if it complies with the just cause requirement. If there is a dispute, the employee may refer it to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) or an accredited bargaining council for conciliation and arbitration,” he says.

There is a risk that employees will seek to take advantage of the situation and Myburgh says the regulations seem to imply that employers have no recourse. “Fortunately, they do. The important sections in the regulations are ‘reasonable justification’ and ‘an imminent and serious risk of their exposure to COVID-19’. This makes it extremely difficult for an employee to take advantage of the situation when their employer has taken all reasonable safety steps and implemented all reasonable measures.”

Disciplinary action

If an employee refuses to go to work based on some nonsensical reason, nothing prohibits the employer from taking the necessary disciplinary steps.

According to Myburgh, the employer can choose from a range of options. These include disciplinary action (in the case of an employee not showing up, insubordination, dereliction of duty, or something similar) to dismissal based on operational requirements (commonly referred to as retrenchment).

“Fundamentally, an employer must ensure that it has complied with all the necessary health and safety regulations. If this has been done and an employee still refuses to come to work due to their perceived risk of contracting COVID-19, it would effectively render further employment operationally intolerable and likely end with a dismissal based on operational requirements,” concludes Myburgh.

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Nicol Myburgh Head of HCM Business Unit CRS Technologies

Time to re-engage with the workforce

In these uncertain times companies have an ideal opportunity to not only reinvent the workplace, but also find more innovative ways of re-engaging with their employees. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, believes transitioning to a more goal-oriented culture could be key to achieving this.

“One of the most important considerations in this regard is to have a peer performance standard that aligns to the SMART (specific; measurable; attainable; relevant; and timely) methodology. This helps to address the fundamental question around the responsibilities of each person working at an organisation,” he says.

Outcomes-focused

Therefore, instead of remaining focused on key performance indicators or key performance areas, management should consider basing their employee engagements on the expected outcomes. This will result in a significantly more interactive system that better aligns to the mission and vision of the organisation, with people understanding what is expected of them from a deliverable perspective.

Most companies have embraced the technology required to operate remotely. This is resulting in an environment that is significantly facilitating employees’ ability to get more work done. Myburgh says this is giving rise to a much more dynamic and social enterprise that will be critical in a post-lockdown world.

“There are three factors driving this – financial, social and environment. From a financial perspective, the employee is saving money on fuel by not having to go into the office. For the organisation, the employee becomes more productive as they do not have to spend a significant time stuck in traffic. From a social perspective, there should not be that much difference to what was in place before. However, environmentally, less traffic on the roads results in a cleaner environment. Organisations can also reduce their energy footprint by having fewer employees working at the office and even potentially downsizing to a smaller office building,” he adds.

Overcoming resistance

Even though the older generation is resistant to the changes being brought about by remote working, companies must start facilitating this in more effective ways.

“It could be something as straightforward as empowering each employee to run their ‘own’ business at home that aligns to their job responsibilities. Of course, this requires not only the physical elements to be in place such as reliable internet connectivity and a dedicated home office environment, but also better time tracking and time sheet management solutions,” he says.

Irrespective of the approach followed, business must change to accommodate the new normal in a radically different environment due to the current crisis. And critical to this is engaging with employees better than before.

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CRS Technologies awarded SA’s first SABPP Corporate Partner status

 

CRS Technologies awarded SA’s first SABPP Corporate Partner status

CRS Technologies, a leader in integrated and efficient HR and payroll solutions and services in the South African market, has become South Africa’s first ever SABPP corporate partner. The South African Board for People Practices (SABPP) is the professional body for HR practitioners in South Africa, providing expertise and quality assurance to the industry. The SABPP’s partnership with CRS recognises the unique capabilities of the company’s platform and how it supports HR best practice.

“The award cements our relationship with the SABPP and underscores our commitment to the industry and to constantly improving the skills and quality of working environments across South Africa,” says Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS. “We are constantly working to provide a full spectrum of HR solutions and services, including legislative compliance, to the industry and to ensure that employers and employees maximise their value and growth.”

Multiple HR processing capabilities

The certificate stands as official recognition and endorsement of CRS’s product and allows for the company to use the SABPP logo in promotional activities such as on the website and marketing materials. The certification recognises the flexibility, easy navigation, multiple HR processing capabilities and accessibility of the CRS platform.

The award ceremony took place at CRS Technologies’ offices in Johannesburg. Naren Vassan, Lead:  Learning and Quality Assurance from SABPP handed the award to Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, saying: “The honour of this certification was per invitation and built on the relationship we have in driving good HR practices. We had the opportunity to assess and evaluate the CRS tool that covers various HR standards and competencies, such as workforce planning, managing payroll and HR practices, and its ability to support learning and development.”

CRS Technologies awarded SA’s first SABPP Corporate Partner status

 

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