By: Hanna Butaya
If you belong to an industry that is already allowed to operate, here are some frequently asked questions to prepare you for getting back to work.
- What is the difference between ECQ, MECQ, and GCQ?
Below is a detailed infographic showing the difference between the three.
- Is public transportation allowed during the MECQ?
No. public transportation remains unallowed during the MECQ. Please check with your local LGUs if the coding schemes is still in effect. For Cebu City, the number coding scheme is still in effect as of this writing.
Since public transportation is still not allowed, this will be challenging for some employees as many of us depend on public transportation to get to work. If it is feasible, companies can offer alternative solutions like offering shuttle buses or near-site accommodations for their staff.
- What documents will a business have to provide to their employees for them to report to work?
- Certificate of Employment (COE) with Return to Work Order
- Printed on company letterhead
- Indicate purpose — Movement of personnel across NCR
- Always put the deadline/validity period — Duration of MECQ and GCQ lockdown
- State clearly that the document will serve only as a COVID-19 Travel Pass and not for any other purpose
- Company IDs with their address and place of work
Please note that there’s a limitation for people under GCQ to enter an MECQ area. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told the Inquirer on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, that a person from a general quarantine area (GCQ) can go to a modified enhanced quarantine area (MECQ) only “for work or indispensable purpose.”
- Are employers required to provide shuttle services during MECQ?
No. According to the issued DOLE Interim Guidelines on Prevention and Workplace Control of COVID 19, it is not mandatory for employers to provide shuttle services to their employees. However, per the guidelines, DOLE said that “whenever feasible, employers must provide shuttle services and/or descent accommodation on near-site locations to lessen travel and people movement.”
- Can an employee refuse to go to work in MECQ areas?
Yes and No.
There are a couple of references that we can use:
(2) DO 198-18 Chapter III Section 6 – Imminent danger is confined inside company premises but may or may not be due to a calamity. Likely due to non compliance to international health and safety standards. Employer have reasonable control to create a safe environment ‘inside’ company premises but cannot guarantee the same outside the controlled spaces of work. An Imminent danger, in this issuance, needs to be determined by DOLE.
Technically, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) must first determine that an imminent danger situation exists in the workplace that may result to death or illness. The rule statest that “A Work Stoppage Order (WSO) shall be issued as soon as the imminent danger situation is confirmed to exist by the DOLE. Workers may validly refuse to work until the lifting of the WSO. The law affords protection to the safety officer and workers against retaliatory acts or reprisals.”
But many arguments have also been raised in the context of “natural calamity” and “imminent danger”.
Here are some questions in terms of applicability of the above references according to Sonnie Santos, an HR Consultant.
- Is the COVID-19 pandemic a natural calamity?
- Do we have an imminent danger situation?
- The declaration of state of calamity placing the nation under various quarantine categories and restricting movement of people, by the President, an acknowledgement of imminent danger?
- Assuming the company and its safety officers more than complied with the minimum health and safety standards set by IATF, can they guarantee safety outside the work premises?
So between the two Government issuances, which one will likely be believed or understood by employees?
It is really up to the company how they want to proceed. Remember that we are not in normal times so we may want to use our hearts and minds equally.
DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez also made a statement that a worker might lose his/her job if the worker still refuses to go to work.
- Is COVID-19 Testing mandatory?
No. DOLE understands the enormous costs that the employer may shell out if this provision is forced on them. DOLE only used the term “may” in the guidelines, however, DOLE and DTI highly encourage COVID-19 testing for employees of companies which can afford it. This may help them in identifying COVID-19 suspects for proper management. The cost of the testing shall be shouldered by the employer.
Please check with your LGU if they require testing. As for Cebu’s tri-cities (Cebu City, Mandaue City and Lapu-lapu City, testing is not mandatory.
- Can employers legally place workers in a Flexible-Work Arrangement (FWA)?
YES. According to DOLE Labor Advisory No. 9, Series of 2020, Guidelines on the Implementation of Flexible Work Arrangements as Remedial Measure due to the Ongoing Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019, employers are encouraged to pursue flexible work arrangements so that companies can do social distancing, save cash flow and ensure continuity in case one of our employees tests positive.
For more details on how the FWA will proceed, look into Labor Advisory No. 2, Series of 2009, Guidelines on the Adoption of Flexible Work Arrangements
Just a warning, FWA should not last more than six (6) months. If you are going to do an FWA, please fill up the 1) Establishment Report on COVID-19 and 2) Report on the Adoption of Flexible Work Arrangements During Economic Difficulties and National Emergencies. Submit it to closest DOLE Regional Office which has jurisdiction over the workplace as soon as possible.
8. Can employees demand Hazard Pay during this time?
The Senate Bill 1418 which grants President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to stop the COVID-19 spread, also mandates hazard pay for all frontline health workers during the ongoing state of calamity in the country. With this bill:
- All public health workers are protected by providing them with a ‘COVID-19 special risk allowance’, in addition to the hazard pay granted under the Magna Carta of the Public Health Workers or Republic Act No. 7305,”
- Public and private health workers who will contract COVID-19 while on duty will be entitled to receive P100,000 from the government.
- If they die while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private medical practitioners will be given P1 million each.
- Philhealth is mandated to shoulder the hospitalization costs of all medical workers who will contract the disease.
But as for the Private Sector? Coach Darwin Rivers answers:
- If work from home arrangement is not feasible for high risk workers and vulnerable groups, should they be denied employment?
No. There shall be no discrimination as well as diminution of wages and benefits for high risk workers and vulnerable groups. Per DOLE, “because of their vulnerability to the virus, senior citizens, pregnant women, workers with co-morbidities are discouraged to travel and work to protect themselves from being infected. Please take note that the Guidelines used the phrase “highly encouraged,” as the DOLE is aware of the peculiarities of the different industries and their demographics. Thus, the prohibition is NOT absolute. For establishments with these types of workers; special work accommodation may be given to them such as priority for transport service, provision of sleeping quarters or other arrangements agreeable to both parties. They shall not be discriminated upon to work and make a living.”
10. Can the employer reduce the pay and benefits of full time workers?
Based on the newly released Labor Advisory No. 17 – 2020, management can now discuss and agree with employees to temporary reduce wage and wage related benefits. The agreement should be in writing.
Per the labor advisory, “the adjustments in wage and/or wage-related benefits shall not exceed six (6) months or the period agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), of any. After such period, employers and employees shall review their agreement and may renew the same.”
11. Can the employer legally retrench the workforce since business in no longer usual?
There are no laws, articles, or executive orders that prohibit companies from terminating employees during the COVID 19 crisis.
The right of the employer to dismiss workers on the ground of retrenchment is governed by Article 283 of the Labor Code as one of the authorized causes of termination of employment. If the grounds for retrenchment are not proved, the retrenchment will be declared illegal and of no effect.
In accordance with the Labor Code, for a valid implementation of a retrenchment program, the employer must serve written notices on the employees and DOLE at least thirty (30) days prior to the intended date of retrenchment.
12. What documents should employers prepare when resuming operations?
According to the DTI and DOLE Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19, employers must provide their respective DOLE Regional office a monthly reporting of illness, disease and injuries utilizing the DOLE Work Accident/Illness Report Form (WAIR).
Click here for the copy of the form.
Please check with your LGU for other essential documents employers must submit. As for the Province of Cebu, according to the Executive Order No. 17 issued by Gov. Gwen Garcia, all businesses operating within the province are required to submit their Business Continuity Plan and Health Security Plan (HSP) to their respective LGU. The HSP must outline programs that is centered on boosting the immunity of the employees.