The New Normal Workplace

Agatha Josephine V. Matabuena

The COVID-19 global pandemic has not only struck people’s health, but also the economy, particularly the labor and employment sector. Based on reports by the International Labor Organization (ILO), COVID-19 is currently having a catastrophic effect globally on working hours and earnings. In the Asia Pacific region alone, the crisis is expected to wipe-out almost 125 million full-time employment or 7.2% of the workforce in the region.*

Locally, to avert economic collapse, the Philippine Government is trying its best to cope with the rigors of the pandemic. After having been placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) for more than two months, Metro Manila, the economic and political capital of the country, has now been placed under a less strict scheme of General Community Quarantine (GCQ) effective June 1 until June 15, unless otherwise extended.**

With the GCQ in place in Metro Manila and other regions, more industries and business enterprises are allowed to operate subject to compliance with strict health protocols. The Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19 by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), require both workers and employers to abide by mandatory precautionary measures.

The DTI and DoLE Interim Guidelines have set minimum requirements for entry in all work premises: 1.) mandatory wearing of masks; 2.) accomplishment of daily health questionnaires; and, 3.) mandatory submission to temperature checks — where entry shall be allowed only for those with temperature of less than 37.5 degrees centigrade.*** Employers are likewise obliged to provide necessary company policies and resources for the prevention and control of COVID-19, which costs shall be borne by the employer.**** Monthly reporting of illness, diseases, and injuries by utilizing the DoLE Work Accident/Illness Report Form (WAIR) was also emphasized to be mandatory.****

On the other hand, the Department of Health (DoH), through its Interim Guidelines on Return-to-Work, has also reminded employers that all returning employees must be screened for symptoms of COVID-19. The DoH has provided for an action guide to aid in the screening of employees. In line with this, employers are further given the option to conduct testing in a representative sample.*****

As a consequence of returning to work, the question of whether an employer may initiate COVID-19 testing of its employees becomes relevant. The DoH Interim Guidelines state that employers may test workers for COVID-19, provided that testing kits used and procured shall be the responsibility of the employer.***** However, in no case shall testing be a condition for returning to work.******

Apart from precautionary protocols, the DoLE has introduced measures on how to deal with decreasing total working hours and earnings. Alternative Work Schemes or Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) are emphasized and encouraged. The more recent DoLE Labor Advisory No. 17 provided for better FWA options. On top of it, employers are now given the opportunity to enter into a Wage and Wage-related Benefits Adjustment Agreement with their employees that is temporary in nature.*******

Government agencies continue to formulate rules and policies relative to COVID-19 prevention and control. Labor policies continue to adapt to changing environmental circumstances, with the end view of helping everyone in the industry. From the words of Guy Ryder, Director General of ILO, it is believed that “this is the greatest test for international cooperation in more than 75 years.” Hence, all must collaborate and do their respective roles to help the nation overcome the pandemic. May all work together and abide by state protocols and rules as the Philippines shifts to and deals, probably for years, with the so called “New Normal.”

* International Labor Organization (Geneva): COVID-19 and the world of work. 2nd Edition
** Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Resolution No. 41
*** Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Labor and Employment Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19
**** Department of Labor and Employment Labor Advisory No. 18 Series of 2020
***** Department of Health Memorandum Circular 2020-0220: Interim Guidelines on Return-to-Work
****** Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Resolution No. 37: Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines
******* Department of Labor and Employment Labor Advisory No. 17 Series of 2020

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This article is for general informational and educational purposes, and not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice or legal opinion.

Agatha Josephine V. Matabuena is an Associate of the Labor and Employment Department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).

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