A newly identified virus, has been rapidly spreading across the globe, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. COVID-19, commonly known as the Coronavirus, is highly contagious and has infected more than 47, 000 people worldwide, mostly in China. Due to the outbreak, there are many changes that need to be made politically as well as economically. Although the number of confirmed cases in the Philippines remains relatively low, it is important that precautions are taken. As such, many businesses also have to make adjustments to ensure the safety of their employees and to ensure they act in accordance with regulation.
Employers’ duties in the Philippines
In response to the ongoing outbreak of the novel Coronavirus, the Philippine government has issued a number of labour notices detailing steps employers should take to protect the health and safety of their employees.
On January 31 2020, the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (“DOLE”) issued Labor Advisory 04-20 (Guidelines on 2019 Novel Coronavirus [2019-nCov] Prevention and Control at the Workplace), which defined guidelines and precautionary measures, issued to assist private sector workplaces in their preparation and response to the Coronavirus.
Prior to this, the DOLE issued Labor Advisory 01-20, detailing that employers in the private sector shall, in the exercise of management prerogative and in coordination with the safety and health committee or any other responsible company office; suspend work to ensure the safety and health of its workforce during times of natural or man-made calamity, such as the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus.
Remote working guidelines
To ensure the health and safety of its workforce, an employer is entitled direct an employee to work from home or remotely. In accordance with DOLE Labor Advisory 01-20 and 04-20, employers in the private sector may exercise this right. If an employer enforces this measure, their employee should continue to receive his/her full salary and benefits during the period of remote working.
If an employer suspends work or requests an employee to remain at home in order to maintain its obligation to the health and safety of its workforce, and the employee did not work, the employer is under no obligation to pay the employee unless there is a specified company policy, practice or mutual agreement granting payment of salary for these types of days.
In line with their obligation to maintain the health and safety of a workforce, employers in the Philippines can direct an employee to take leave unless there is a company policy, practice, or other collective agreement limiting the employer’s right. To further ensure health and safety, employers may also direct employees to stay at home, without remuneration, provided that the employee does not carry out any work, unless there is a company policy, practice, or other mutual agreement granting the payment of salary for these types of days. If an employee has accrued annual leave entitlement, he/she may be allowed to take these days as compensated leave (as per normal). However, employers are encouraged to exercise flexibility and compassion in granting additional leave with pay. It is possible for employers and employees to agree on other arrangements for leave of absence that may be beneficial to both parties.
As of 18 February 2020, the following travel restrictions are in place:
- The Philippine government has imposed a temporary travel suspension against travellers coming to the Philippines from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. Filipino citizens and alien permanent status holders are exempt from this.
- Filipino nationals are prohibited from travelling to mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau until further notice.
- South Korea has suspended visa-free entry of Filipino nationals to Jeju island.
Measures being adopted by Filipino Employers
Depending on the nature of work, a handful of employers are asking employees to work from home or remotely due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. It is important that employers remember that the employees who are instructed to follow this alternative arrangement must continue to receive his/her full pay and benefits. Employers are also limiting non-essential business travel to affected areas or those deemed ‘risky’.