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Labor Advisory No.1, Series of 2020, of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) prescribes that “employees who fail or refuse to work by reason of imminent danger resulting from natural or man-made calamity shall not be … subject to any administrative sanction”. This was issued on 13 January 2020 by the DOLE Secretary before the President declared a 6 month period of national public health emergency on 16 March 2020.
12 days earlier, on 04 March 2020, upon realizing the far ranging adverse effects of COVID 19, the DOLE Secretary announced through Labor Advisory 9-2020: “ the adoption of flexible work arrangements is considered as (a) better alternative(s) than outright termination of the services of the employees or the total closure of the establishments.”
On 16 May 2020, reiterating the preferred approach of avoiding employment terminations, the DOLE Secretary reminded employers about alternative work schemes as remedies to avoid such terminations and closures: employee transfers or reassignments; reduction of workdays; job rotation; partial closure.
The question then is: may Philippine employers nonetheless resort to employee dismissals if they deem the same to be necessary?
Yes, they can, even during the pandemic, for as long as there are either just or authorized causes for terminating the employment. Just causes refer to fault or negligence of the employee (serious misconduct, gross and habitual neglect of duties, breach of trust, commission of a crime against the employer, or an analogous cause); authorized causes involve a business decision of the employer (as a redundancy declaration, installation of labor saving devices, retrenchment, cessation of operations) or a separation due to affliction with a disease. There are however varying rules applicable to each of these causes. Generally, due process needs to be observed prior to dismissals for a just cause. Prior notices and payment of separation pay are required for authorized cause separations. Employers need not worry for as long as they have substantial evidence of the just or authorized cause and are compliant with the applicable rules.