This article was written by Amelia Berman, an associate at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa
While countries in the northern hemisphere are currently enjoying their long summer holidays, we South Africans are facing a cold (and unusually wet) winter wishing that we could borrow a practice from the United Kingdom and the United States and take a “duvet day”.
Duvet days are additional leave days afforded to employees by some employers in excess of their statutory minimum 15 working days’ annual leave. This is also in excess of the statutory minimum sick leave entitlement (which is the equivalent of 30 or 36 days for a five or six day working week respectively) and the minimum family responsibility leave that an employee will be entitled to when the employee’s child is born or sick or in the event of the death of the employee’s spouse, life partner, parent, adoptive parent, grandparent, child, adopted child, grandchild or sibling (which minimum entitlement is three days). These duvet days are often taken without any prior notice and where employees do not have to provide a normally accepted reason for their absence.
Although this practice has not been adopted widely in South Africa and there is no statutory entitlement to it, the benefits of affording employees a duvet day may very well outweigh the negatives.
Duvet days are an ideal additional employee-focussed benefit that has the propensity to produce a loyal and dedicated workforce. In addition, duvet days can have the effect of reducing the dishonest reliance by employees of sick days.
An inherent problem, however, with introducing duvet days is where businesses are left understaffed if too many employees take duvet days off at the same time, for example, the day after the soccer World Cup final or the day before Christmas. However, employers can easily regulate the duvet days afforded to employees during or around such occasions and can limit the number of people who are granted a duvet day on any particular day. Another solution is to extend the notice period that employees must give their employers if they wish to take time off.
This concept has gained great popularity as employers begin to find novel ways to address the work-life balance where their employees work excessively long hours.