The “New Normal” for Businesses

(A brief and consolidated manual on government mandated minimum safety practices and employee rights during the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis)

The Department of Health (“DOH”), the Department of Public Works and Highways (“DPWH”), the Department of Trade and Industry (“DTI”), and the Department of Labor and Employment (“DOLE”) released issuances providing for the prevention and control of COVID-19 in workplaces as businesses resume on-site operations under varying levels of community quarantine.

Preparatory Steps to be Taken in Resumption of Operations

Before companies and businesses can resume operations, they must first do the following:

  1. Provide the necessary company policies, in consultation with the employees, for the prevention and control of COVID-19, using reliable sources of information such as the DOH and WHO.
  2. Provide resources and materials necessary to keep the workers healthy and the workplace safe.
  3. Designate a safety officer who will monitor compliance with COVID-19 prevention and control measures.
  4. Designate an area of the workplace which will serve as an isolation area.
  5. Enhance health insurance provisions for workers.
  6. If feasible, provide shuttle services and/or decent accommodations on near-site locations to minimize travel and people movement. Employers are enjoined to hire from the local community.
  7. Set up a COVID-19 Hotline for reporting of symptoms and monitoring of suspect employees.
  8. Put in place protocols for transport of suspect COVID-19 cases and for PCR testing.

Health Standards to be Maintained

Employers are directed to constantly remind their employees to observe daily healthy practices, and follow the minimum safety measures in their premises. [See article: DTI and DOLE’s Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19]

Visual reminders should be posted around the workplace to strengthen compliance with the safety policies.

Every month, employers are required to provide the DOLE through its Regional Offices, copy furnished the DOH, with reports on illnesses, diseases, and injuries utilizing the DOLE Work Accident/Illness Report Form (“WAIR”).

Support Required from Employers for Employees

Employers are required to provide the following in their offices or to their employees:

  1. Appropriate face masks for use by the employees
  2. Appropriate medical grade PPEs for staff in the isolation area, including but not limited to face masks, goggles/face shields, and/or gloves
  3. Disinfectant foot baths, if practicable
  4. Soap, sanitizer, and disinfectant
  5. Free medicines and vitamins
  6. COVID-19 testing kits (Testing is not required per se; however, should the employer wish to conduct the same, it should be responsible for procuring the testing kits)
  7. Ambulance conduction
  8. Referral for workers who need counseling or who exhibit mental health concerns

In the case of contracting and subcontracting arrangements, the cost of COVID-19 prevention and control measures shall be borne by the principal of the contractors.

Screening of Employees

Employees physically reporting to their place of employment are required to accomplish a health symptoms questionnaire to screen for symptoms and determine their history of travel/exposure within the last 14 days. Employers must particularly check for the following exposures two (2) days before or within 14 days from onset of symptoms of a suspected or probable case:

  1. Face-to-face contact with a confirmed case within 1 meter and for more than 15 minutes
  2. Direct physical contact with a confirmed case
  3. Direct care for a patient with probable or confirmed COVID-19 disease without using proper PPE.

The following actions may be taken depending on the result of the screening:

Employees who are symptomatic with relevant history of travel/exposure on the date of work resumption

Should not be allowed to physically return to work and must consult with their primary care provider, preferably through telemedicine.

Employees who were symptomatic with relevant history of travel/exposure within the last fourteen (14) days prior to the date of resumption

Should present a Certificate of Quarantine Completion issued by the appropriate step-down care facility or local health office.

Asymptomatic in the fourteen (14) days immediately prior to resumption of work

May return to work physically.

How to Handle Personnel Exhibiting Symptoms While At Work

If a worker is suspected as having COVID-19

If a worker is sick but not suspected of having COVID-19

  1. The worker must immediately proceed to the designated isolation area and must not remove his/her mask.
  2. The workplace must be decontaminated with appropriate disinfectant; work can resume after 24 hours from decontamination.
  3. Workers who were present in the work area with the suspect COVID-19 worker must go on 14-day home quarantine with specific instructions from clinic staff on monitoring of symptoms. Should the suspect COVID-19 worker test negative, the co-workers may be allowed to report back to work.

Workers who are sick or have fever but are not suspected of having COVID-19 must be advised by the employer to take prudent measures to limit the spread of communicable diseases, as follows:

  1. Stay at home and keep away from work or crowds;
  2. Take adequate rest
  3. Take plenty of fluids
  4. Practice personal hygiene
  5. Seek appropriate medical care if fever persists, if breathing difficulty begins, or when physical weakness is felt.

The above guidelines notwithstanding, employers are still encouraged to adopt Alternative Work Arrangements under the “New Normal” for Businesses.

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Disclaimer: The information in this website is provided for general informational purposes only. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Platon Martinez or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances.