NICOLAS AND DE VEGA LAW OFFICES BUSINESS GUIDE TO SURVIVING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted severely on the lives of everyone across the globe. Part of the sector affected by the global health crisis is the labor and employment sector.

The Department of Labor and Employment, in response to unprecedented circumstances affecting the workforce, issued a series of regulations and guidelines to govern the relations between employers and employees.

Suspension of Work in the Private Sector by Reason of Natural or Man-Made Calamity

First in the list of issuances from the Department of Labor and Employment is Labor Advisory No. 1, Series of 2020, which outlines the rules in payment of wages, in case there is a suspension of work due to a natural or man-made calamity.

Briefly stated, the advisory mandates that a) there will be no pay if no work is rendered, unless there is a collective bargaining agreement or company policy to the contrary, that is favorable to the employee, and provided that in case the employee has leaves, the employee should be allowed to utilize them. If the employee works on such days, no additional payment aside from the salary is to be given to the employee. Finally, if the employee refuses to render work because of imminent danger resulting from natural or man-made calamities, the employee should not be punished.

One-Month Enhanced Community Quarantine Period Excluded from Probationary Period

Labor Advisory No. 14, Series of 2020 governs probationary employees, such that if the probationary period of employment falls during a one-month Enhanced Community Quarantine, this period shall not be included for purposes of computing the employee’s probationary period.

Alternative Work Arrangements Upon the Resumption of Business Operation

Labor Advisory No. 17, Series of 2020, on the other hand, prescribes rules for private sector businesses operating or allowed to operate during the Enhanced Community Quarantine, General Community Quarantine, or other government-imposed lockdowns.

In the nutshell, employers and companies are encourages to adopt work-from-home arrangements or implement telecommuting arrangements and alternative work schemes. Alternative work schemes may include work transfer to another location, re-assignment of the employee to another position, reduction of workdays or hours, job rotation, partial closure of the business, and other feasible work arrangements. These alternative work arrangements are temporary in nature and may only be implemented as long as the Public Health Crises exists. There is also a reporting requirement that must be complied with if the employer or company decides to implement alternative work arrangements, by furnishing a copy of the Regional Office of the Department of Labor and Employment with a report and the arrangements  and agreements entered into between the company and the employees. Furthermore, Labor Advisory No. 17-A, Series of 2020 identifies the report to be submitted under Labor Advisory No. 17, to be accomplished where the company adopts flexible work arrangements, alternative work arrangements, temporary closure, retrenchment, reduction of the workforce and permanent closure.

Who bears the Cost of COVID-19 Prevention and Control Measures?

Labor Advisory No. 18, Series of 2020, on the other hand, requires all employers, including contractors and subcontractors in the private sector to shoulder the cost of COVID-19 prevention and control measures such as testing, disinfection facilities, training, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPEs and face masks). Contractors in the construction and service industry may pass on the cost of these prevention and control measures to their clients or principals, allowing the amendment of existing agreements to conform to this requirement. Labor Advisory No. 18, Series of 2020 prohibits charging these costs to the employees.

Compensation for Private Health Workers

Labor Advisory No. 21, Series of 2020 applies specifically to private health workers, particularly those who contracted COVID-19 beginning 01 February 2020 and recovered, and those who dies in the line of duty. It outlines the list of requirements for private health care workers to be eligible, and provides monetary compensation, in the amount of P100,000.00 for those health workers who recovered, and P1,000,000.00 for health workers who passed away due to the illness.

There is a list of documents enumerated in Labor Advisory No. 21, Series of 2020 to be submitted by private health workers or their heirs to claim compensation. These are to be submitted to the Regional, Provincial or Field Offices of the Department of Labor and Employment where the worker is employed, or online with the Department of Labor and Employment.

 Finally, Labor Advisory No. 21, Series of 2020 provides for the remedies in case a private health worker is denied his or her claim, which includes the filing of a Motion for Reconsideration with the Central Office of the Department of Health, with a further appeal that may be addressed to the Secretary of Health.

Employment of Children in the Public Entertainment or Information During Community Quarantine

Labor Advisory No. 24-A, Series of 2020, on the other hand, governs employers in the public entertainment or information sector, and who are allowed to operate during the government-imposed lockdowns. The Department of Labor and Employment permitted the hiring of children between 15 to 17 years of age, provided that the company complies with the minimum health standards imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases and the relevant sectors of the Philippine government. It also underscored the right of the child to refuse work under Republic Act No. 9231 and Republic Act No. 11058.

Alternative Modes of Payment of Wages and Benefits

Labor Advisory No. 26, Series of 2020, outlined alternative modes with which companies can pay their employees. Digital banking and other financial services are being promoted by the Department of Labor and Employment, as an alternative to physical payment or exchange of bills and coins, to reduce physical contact and minimize transmission of the virus.

Among these being advocated for by the Department of Labor and Employment are the opening of basic deposit accounts, the use of electronic money, employment of financial service access points such as ATMs, bank branches, etc., to pay for goods, transfer, or remit funds, and to withdraw them, PESONet fund transfer facilities, and opening of transaction accounts.

Employers and companies are advised to communicate with their employees the benefits of utilizing these for receiving their wages, and to provide them with the option to receive salaries through these alternative payment channels.

Waiver of Penalties for Alien Employment Permit Renewal Applications

Labor Advisory 1, Series of 2021 applies to foreigners whose Alien Employment Permit renewal applications have been filed beyond the reglementary period, and mandates that they shall not be assessed penalties pursuant to Section 4(tt) of Republic Act NO. 11494 also known as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and also under the Memorandum of the Executive Secretary dated 23 October 2020. However, the waiver applies only until 05 February 2021.

COVID-19 Vaccination in the Workplaces

Vaccination in the workplace has also been a big issue, prompting the Department of Labor and Employment to issue guidelines on vaccination in the workplace.

Issued under Labor Advisory No. 3, Series of 2021, the advisory governs companies that administer COVID-19 vaccines. The Department of Labor and Employment mandates that the cost of vaccination shall not be charged against the employees. Likewise, employees who refuse or fails to be vaccinated, shall not be discriminated against, or punished, in terms of tenure, promotion or other benefits. The Department of Labor and Employment clarified that the No vaccine, no work policy is prohibited and cannot be imposed. Also, in relation to vaccination, Labor Advisory No. 8, Series of 2021, also gave the policy declaration of encouraging employees to be vaccinated, and urged employers and companies to secure their own vaccination program, either privately or in coordination with their respective local government units.

Submission of Monthly Report on COVID-19 in the Workplace

Finally, under Labor Advisory No. 9, Series of 2021, the Department of Labor and Employment once again reminded employers to comply with the monthly Workplace COVID-19 Prevention and Control Compliance Report (WAIR COVID19 Form) through the DOLE Establishment Report System, and that this should be submitted every 30th of the month, regardless of the presence or absence of COVID-19 cases in the company.

About Nicolas and De Vega Law Offices

If you need assistance in labor-related issues, compliance with DOLE issuances, and company employment policies,  or business-related concerns, we can help you find solutions. Nicolas and de Vega Law Offices is a full-service law firm in the Philippines.  You may visit us at the 16th Flr., Suite 1607 AIC Burgundy Empire Tower, ADB Ave., Ortigas Center, 1605 Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines.  You may also call us at +632 84706126, +632 84706130, +632 84016392 or e-mail us at info@ndvlaw.com. Visit our website www.ndvlaw.com.

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