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Editors' Forum | Employers urged not to classify quarantine time as vacation leave

Published:Friday | March 13, 2020 | 12:08 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Jamaican employees who are subject to quarantine or isolation for the novel coronavirus should not lose that vacation leave entitlement during that time, says Dunston Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health & Wellness.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, several Jamaicans have been placed in quarantine for up to 14 days.

Addressing a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Thursday, Bryan said that in the public sector, special leave would be granted to workers put in quarantine or isolation and encouraged the private sector to review its leave arrangements.

He said that “business continuity is paramount” in every crisis and urged companies to consider flexiwork arrangements and greater use of smart technology that would enable staff to work remotely.

The Bank of Nova Scotia announced yesterday that it had closed its New Kingston branch indefinitely after the management was made aware that one of the two confirmed local COVID-19 patients had visited the location and was in contact with some staff members.

Vice-president of the Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica (HRMAJ), Michael McAnuff-Jones, concurred with the ministry’s position on leave classification.

“The allowances in a pandemic that you provide to employees should not be driven by what kind of contract an employee has. It should be simply based upon what a company feels is best for it to support its employees,” McAnuff-Jones said.

He continued: “We expect employers to treat the quarantine as special leave, meaning that it is not part of vacation or part of sick leave. A contract employee is an employee, just not on a fixed-term contract.”

The HRMAJ vice-president said that policy exceptions are being encouraged for sick employees, ill relatives of employees, and those who require quarantine or isolation.

“If a downturn in the business is temporary, then the company may feel that it is able to ride it out while supporting the staff, or if the company is in a situation where a reduction in business does not allow it to pay its staff, then that decision will be a tricky one,” he said.