Manila, 17 February 2021 - Philippine employers enter a new year still reeling from the business disruption brought about by COVID-19. Workforce rules and regulations issued by the Philippine government in response to the pandemic have impacted the way employers engage, retain and manage their personnel. Managing and structuring one’s workforce in light of current realities is now an essential knowhow for Philippine employers.

Quisumbing Torres' Employment Practice Group shed light on labor issues that may impact enterprises at the "Employment Law Review 2020" webinar held on 14 January 2021.

"The workplace environment witnessed the most significant shifts in 2020 as people had to swiftly adjust to remote working and other alternative work arrangements in the wake of COVID-19 and the lockdowns that followed," Kenneth Chua said in his opening remarks. "Employment counsels were busy advising on COVID-related employment law matters, such as Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) advisories, health and safety policies in the workplace, and the effect of cost-saving measures, restructuring and redundancies —issues that could not possibly been foreseen happing all at the same time much earlier in the past year," he continued. "Through these webinars, our team hopes to help guide in-house employment teams and counsels as they continue to face many challenges, particularly in keeping up to date with the latest developments and how these affect their organizations. We hope discussions in this virtual event helps teams better structure workforce policies for 2021."

Patrick Salazar presented landmark Philippine Supreme Court decisions promulgated in 2020 and provided an overview on the new regulations on recruitment and placement of industry and domestic workers.

During his presentation, Patrick explained how one Supreme Court decision impacts existing requirements for dismissal of employees due to redundancy. He also discussed a decision where the Supreme Court stressed the seriousness of the requirement for employers to immediately act upon complaints for sexual harassment, especially when we consider the requirements under the Safe Spaces Act. Towards the end of his presentation, Patrick talked about the salient points of the new rules and regulations governing recruitment and placement of domestic and industry workers by local private employment agencies.

Marianne Ko-Tibayan and Rosalyn Anuncio, meanwhile, led the discussions on COVID-19 regulations issued by the DOLE to guide Philippine employers and employees on how to navigate the new work environment.

While most may already be aware of COVID-19 Workplace Safety and Health guidelines, Rosalyn expounded on other DOLE issuances aimed primarily at preserving employment. These issuances afford employers further options and incentives for preserving jobs, such as the implementation of flexible and alternative work arrangements, adjustment of probationary periods, and deferment of holiday payments. Rosalyn further explained that the DOLE has released guidelines on the payment of wages through transaction accounts. Transaction accounts refer to bank or e-money accounts that can be used to store, send and receive funds, which may be used as a safer alternative in the payment of employees' wages without the need for physical contact.

"Employers are encouraged but not required to use transaction accounts in the payment of wages," Roselyn further explained. "In doing so, the employers should communicate to the employees the benefits and convince them that this is a safer and better alternative especially at this time of the pandemic."

Finally, Joyce Chan provided a summary of the relevant non-COVID-19 DOLE regulations and provided useful tips for each regulation:

Labor Advisory No. 06-20 (LA 6-20): Guidelines on the Payment of Final Pay and Issuance of Certificate of Employment (COE)        

Check whether existing administrative policies meet the timing requirements under LA 6-20. If not, adjust existing policies.

Ensure effective communication between employer and employees (e.g., strict implementation of notice periods for departing employees and requiring employees to submit a written request for a COE).

Department Order No. 208, Series of 2020 (DO 208-20): Guidelines on the implementation of the Mental Health Workplace Policies and Programs in the private sector 

Employers or contractors should take a proactive stance by:

1. keeping updated on recent labor legislations applicable to their industry

2. reviewing current policies

3. aligning current practices and policies based on recent legislations 

Employers and contractors should revisit and scrutinize existing occupational safety and health programs to determine whether such programs are compliant with the requirements of DO 208-20.

Department Order 215, Series of 2020 (DO 215-20): Rule Amending Section 12 of Rule I, Rules Implementing Book VI of the Labor Code on Suspension of Employment Relationship  Employers intending to utilize the provisions of DO 215-20 are advised to check their existing internal policies to determine the applicable company benefits that may be impacted as a result of suspending the employment relationship. 

Several questions were raised at the end of the session. The last and most relevant of these questions pertained to the possibility of employers requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of their workers and their corresponding potential liabilities.

"There are numerous concerns in this regard. Will the employer be liable if the employee experiences negative side effects? If so, what would be the extent of the liability? If the government allows mandatory vaccination, can employees who refuse to be vaccinated be penalized or terminated for insubordination? There are many, many things to consider," Kenneth explained. "Hopefully, in the coming months, the government will step in and issue advisories to clarify. But assuming the government does not come up with such advisories, then that will definitely be an interesting topic for another webinar."