Covid-19 and UIF benefits explained

covid-19-uif Apr 06, 2020

UPDATED: 14 April 2020

South Africa has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by instituting various containment measures, including a period of compulsory lockdown.

During the compulsory lockdown period, no employees may present themselves at the workplace, however -

  • Exempted from this prohibition are employees, whose job functions have been determined to be essential services, or supporting essential services, or as otherwise permitted in terms of Government Regulations
  • Where the job functions of any employee allow and the employer has work available, employees may work remotely.
  • Where employees cannot work remotely or there is no work available, employees will not work at all. In terms of the principle of “no work, no pay”, employees who do not work, are not entitled to any remuneration.

There is however at least a moral duty on employer to assist employees to survive during the period of lockdown.  Large employers have been urged by the President to continue paying remuneration, alternatively to utilise the various options or initiatives put in place by the Government to assist employers and to protect employees from the economic effects of COVID-19.

Inevitably, there is the issue of interpretation of legal provisions - and to determine what the intention of the legislature is in a given circumstance. This is particularly true as regards the issue of financial assistance that has been made available to businesses during this period. The main platform the government is using to provide financial assistance specifically to employers and employees, is the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Existing, as well as new benefits, can be utilised and there are different options available depending on the situation that an employer finds itself in. These options and how they are supposed to work, are not always entirely clear and there have been conflicting interpretations by legal experts and even from the UIF helplines.  

Employers who do not have sufficient funds to satisfy their wage bill may have to apply for these benefits in order to avoid retrenching staff or utilising unpaid leave.  Employers must also consider whether any collective agreements apply and whether they can implement wage subsidies (through bargaining councils) or if they are permitted by existing agreements to implement lay-offs, short time or unpaid leave.

Where possible, a consultative and consensus seeking approach should be adopted in relation to employees. Employers should consider the best options available to them and discuss these with their employees - telephonically, over SMS or video chat. An attempt to reach agreement should be made and, where available, UIF benefits should be applied for. Annual leave is also an option.

We have compiled a BOOKLET to explore and explain the various UIF benefit options to employers, as best we understand them. There have already been amendments to the original regulations of 26 March 2020 - we are updating the online booklet as it happens. The updated version as of 14 April 2020 is available at the link below.

We discuss the different options as set out below.

A. Leave (paid/unpaid/partly paid)

B. UIF reduced time/lay-off benefit (sec 12(1B)) – applicable from January 2017

C. UIF National Disaster Benefit (NDB)

D. UIF-Covid-19 TERS

E. UIF Illness Benefits (Quarantined) (1) less than 14 days; (2) more than 14 days OR sick leave


G. UIF Death benefits 


 © Judith Griessel 

 The Booklet can be accessed and downloaded at the following link:

For more about COVID-19 information, legal opinions, disaster management, remote work and various resources, visit our SMARTLIST - the link is on our Home Page at


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