Highlights of the Webinar:
Employers and Workers in the Time of COVID-19
DTI and DOLE Interim Guidelines on
Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19
5 May 2020
With the impending resumption of business operations under either the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or General Community Quarantine (GCQ), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) jointly issued the interim guidelines on workplace prevention and control of COVID-19 last 30 April 2020. The purpose of the interim guidelines is to assist the private sector in formulating its own minimum health standards/protocols in order to manage the risks of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. The DTI-DOLE interim guidelines shall apply to all workplaces, employers, and workers in the private sector, and are aligned with the objectives of the minimum health standards of the Department of Health (DOH) during the COVID-19 crisis.
On 5 May 2020, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) held a webinar to discuss and provide understanding on the guidelines. Above all, it has been emphasized that the health of employers and workers alike must first and foremost be the top priority. The interim guidelines encompass protocols on how to reduce the transmission of the virus before entering, as well as inside the workplace by providing directives vis-à-vis correct physical distancing, sanitizing, and isolation of suspected employees with COVID-19. As for workplaces with imminent danger situations, the employer shall comply with DOH Department Memorandum No. 202-0178 or the Interim Guidelines on Health Care Provider Networks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternative work arrangements such as work-from-home or working-hour shifts are highly encouraged provided that it is feasible.
Moreover, the testing kits to be used and procured and provision of the appropriate face masks for workers shall be the responsibility of the employer. The DOH protocols must be observed for the testing of workers and interpretation of results in accordance with DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0180, or the Revised Interim Guidelines on Expanded Testing for COVID-19, and DOH Administrative Order No. 2020-0014, or the Directive to Attend to All Suspected NCOV Patients Seeking Consultation/Treatment at Hospital. The guidelines provide a minimum standard that an employer need not have all its employees undergo testing. Only those who have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive patient and those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 should undergo PCR-testing. However, the employer still has the prerogative as to whether or not all of his employees shall undergo PCR-testing.
While no sanctions have been specified in the interim guidelines, the sanctions provided for in the Occupational Safety and Health Law and its implementing rules and regulations will be applied. DTI and DOLE echo out the bayanihan spirit – the need to help one another during this trying time and to cooperate in this fight to flatten the curve and eventually eradicate COVID-19.
MR. IRENEO V. VIZMONTE
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)
MS. MA. TERESITA S. CUCUECO, M.D., CESO III
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)
MR. JOSE ROLAND MOYA
Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP)
Before the actual discussion took place, participants were asked to answer a series of questions in relation to the response of various companies to the enhanced community quarantine
- What is the size of your company? (Based on number of employees)
- Micro (1-9 employees) – 25 (3%)
- Small (10-99 employees) – 181 (21%)
- Medium (100-199 employees) – 138 (16%)
- Large (200 employees and above) – 518 (60%)
- What is the profile of our participants in this webinar?
- Employer / Business Owner – 52 (6%)
- Human Resource Personnel – 405 (48%)
- Employed in Other Positions – 269 (27%)
- Safety Officers – 147 (16%)
- Self-Employed – 13 (1%)
- Unemployed – 8 (1%)
- Recently Laid-Off because of COVID-19 – 2 (0%)
- Overseas Filipino Worker – 3 (0%)
- Which major industry group does your company belong to?
- Agriculture – 518 (60%)
- Manufacturing, Construction, etc. – 329 (38%)
- Services – 17 (2%)
- What type of flexible work arrangement (FWA) is your company currently observing for the duration of the lockdown? (Choose all that applies)
- Work From Home / Telecommuting / Telework – 677 (42%)
- Compressed Work Week – 79 (5%)
- Skeleton Workforce – 405 (25%)
- Forced Leave – 171 (11%)
- Reduction of Work Hours – 135 (8%)
- Temporary Closure of Company; Operations were Totally Shutdown – 106 (7%)
- Others – 27 (2%)
- Is your company/business-ready and capable of complying with the interim guidelines?
- Yes – 808 (85%)
- No – 139 (15%)
- Has your company already put in place your own guidelines and protocols in preparation for the resumption of work?
- Yes – 599 (64%)
- No – 338 (36%)
- What are your plans in so far as work resumption is concerned?
- Continue work from home arrangements for all employees – 84 (9%)
- Employ 10-20% skeleton staffing – 103 (11%)
- Employ 21-49% skeleton staffing – 159 (17%)
- Employ 50% skeleton staffing – 385 (41%)
- Others – 206 (22%)
- What challenges are you expecting upon work resumption?
- Availability and accessibility of public transportation – 278 (29%)
- Technological limitation that will allow work from home arrangements – 19 (2%)
- Health risks – 432 (45%)
- Sanitation and decontamination of workplace –9 (1%)
- Physical distancing protocols – 48 (5%)
- Testing of employees – 144 (15%)
- Provision of PPEs and hygiene kits – 19 (2%)
- Others – 9 (1%)
Highlights of the Presentation:
- The objective of the issuance of the interim guidelines is to assist private institutions that are allowed to operate during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and General Community Quarantine (GCQ) in developing the minimum health protocols and standards in light of the COVID-19 pandemic
- The interim guidelines shall apply to all workplaces, employers, and workers in the private sector
- Taking into consideration the unique features of every industry, the interim guidelines are general in nature; therefore, employers still have the responsibility of crafting the appropriate guidelines for their workplace that is not only in compliance with the protocols and standards set by the interim guidelines, but also to have an appropriate set of rules and regulations that respond to the specific demands of their workplace
Increase Physical and Mental Resistance
- Above all else, it must be the priority of every employee to take care of their physical and mental health by practicing the good habits of:
- Consuming nutritious and well-cooked food
- Drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding alcoholic beverages
- Sleeping at least 8 hours a day
- Taking time to exercise
- Taking vitamins
- Companies are enjoined to provide free medicines and vitamins to their employees
- Provide referral for workers needing counseling or presenting with mental health concerns
- Everyone must follow the respiratory hygiene guidelines of the Department of Health Department Memorandum No. 2020-0090 (link to the guidelines: http://caro.doh.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/dc2020-0080.pdf)
Reducing Transmission of COVID-19
A. Prior to the entrance in buildings or workplaces:
- Wear face masks at all times and only remove them when eating or drinking
- For those who cannot afford to buy a surgical-grade/N95 masks, cloth masks may be used as alternative
- However, all employees must follow the company prescribed type of face mask inside the workplace at all times
- Accomplish the daily Health Symptoms Questionnaire and submit it to the guard/designated safety officer
- The Health Symptoms Questionnaire may be accessed through: bit.ly/DTI-DOLE_workplace-guidelines
- This is essential not only to monitor the health of employees but also to facilitate contact tracing
- Have a temperature check
- For temperatures above 37.5°C even after 5 minutes of rest, person shall be isolated in an identified area and not allowed entry
- Conduct temperature check not only in entry points but also within the workplace on a regular basis
- Spray alcohol/sanitizers on both hands and provide disinfectant footbaths at the entrance if practicable
- A workplace must have an isolation area that is well-ventilated and disinfected frequently
- Frequently means disinfecting it at least once every two hours
- Clinic staff assigned to assess workers held in isolation area shall be provided with the appropriate medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPEs) by the establishment
- Equipment or vehicle must go through a disinfection process before being allowed to enter the worksite
- Other equally important objects that must be disinfected: packed items, pieces of furniture, doorknobs, and railings
- Maintain physical distancing of one meter at all times, especially in long queues
- Roving officers should be deployed in order to monitor that physical distancing is being followed properly
B. Inside the workplace:
- Disinfect – all workplace areas and frequently handled objects such as doorknobs and handles, shall be cleaned and disinfected, at least once every two hours
- Disinfect including those in the bathroom
- Sanitize – all washrooms and toilets shall have sufficient clean water and soap
- Sanitizers and alcohols shall be made available in all areas where workers pass
- Physical distancing – workers, whether in office workstations or operations area, shall always practice physical distancing at a minimum of one-meter radius space between each other
- If there is a need to reconfigure the workplaces, it is important to begin it as soon as possible
- No eating in communal spaces
- It is best to eat in individual work areas and all wastes shall be properly disposed
- If there is a canteen in the workplace, it is advised that workers who opt to eat inside the canteen should observe one seat apart rule or if not, look for options in order to ensure that employees are separated from one another while eating
- If eating in individual work areas is impossible, employer shall ensure that physical distancing is maintained in dining areas with one worker per table and one-meter distance per worker
- Canteen and kitchens should be disinfected regularly
- Workers are discouraged from engaging in conversations with masks off
- Tables and chairs shall be cleansed or disinfected before and after use, as well as at the end of the workday
- During a meeting, it must be ensured that physical distancing is still observed
- Face-to-face meetings shall be limited to small number of people
- Conduct virtual meetings for meetings with ten or more people
Minimize Contact Rate
- Symptomatic individuals should stay at home unless there is a pressing need to go to a health facility for a medical consultation, if virtual consultation is not possible
- Ensure rational use of PPEs that is appropriate for the workplace setting and the intended user
- Alternative work arrangements such as working-hour shifts, work from home (WFH), where feasible, and on rotation basis are encouraged
- This is important, especially if NCR will be placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) considering that going to work will be a potential challenge to workers due to difficulty in transportation
- Prolonged face-to-face interaction between workers and clients are discouraged
- Masks shall be worn at all times
- Meetings needing physical presence shall be kept to a minimum number of participants and with short duration; video conferencing shall be used for lengthy discussions among workers
- Office tables should be arranged in order to maintain proper physical distancing; barriers may be provided between tables
- Workstation layout should be designed to allow for unidirectional movement in aisles, corridors, or walkways
- Number of people inside enclosed spaces (rooms, stores, hall, elevators) shall be limited to observe the one-meter physical distancing
- Use of stairs should be encouraged subject to physical distancing requirements. If more than two stairways are accessible, one may be used exclusively for going up and another for going down
- Online system shall be highly encouraged to be utilized for clients needing assistance from offices, including the use of videoconferencing
- Roving officers shall always ensure physical distancing and observance of minimum health protocols
Duties of Employers and Workers
- Aside from the minimum requirements set by the joint interim guidelines, employers can have their own prescriptions that will best suit the setting or the work environment
- Companies are encouraged to submit their company policies for the prevention and control of COVID-19 to DTI/DOLE, not for purposes of regulation, but in order to collate all the best practices of companies that can be used as templates for other industries and companies
- If a company has offices in various locations, they may consider transferring some employees to sites that are near their residences
- Companies are also encouraged to explore available technologies and maximize it
- DTI and DOLE encourage companies to enhance health insurance provision for workers to make it a suitable response for the needs of employees during this COVID-19 pandemic
- Employers should also put up reminders or posters regarding COVID-19 prevention and control guidelines for employees to be aware
- Aside from the minimum requirements set by the joint interim guidelines, employees may use their arms (back of the elbow) to cover one’s mouth/nose when sneezing or coughing
Workplace with Imminent Danger Situations
- Workers in such workplaces must observe extra precautionary measures
- In the latest list of allowed business activities, traditional hair services (hair salons, barbershops) are already allowed to operate
- When such businesses operate, they should observe strict hygiene standards
- Considering that there is still rampant shortage of PPEs in the country, they may opt to use other materials to protect employees and customers alike
- Employers cannot force their employees to go to work if there is imminent danger
- Employers may procure and use testing kits to test whether or not their employees are COVID-19 positive
- It is the responsibility of the employer
- Follow DOH protocols on testing of workers and interpretation of results in accordance with:
- DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0180: Revised Interim Guidelines on Expanded Testing for COVID-19 (16 April 2020)
- DOH Administrative Order No. 2020-0014: Guidelines in Securing a License to Operate a COVID-19 Testing Laboratory in the Philippines (7 April 2020)
- Companies should have a designated area in their workplaces in which the testing could be administrated properly
- Company policy on COVID-19 testing shall be formulated and agreed upon by employers and workers in conformity with DOH protocols
- Workers with a negative test shall continue to work
- They should be given appropriate advice and instructions once they develop any health complaints of symptoms
Most at Risk Workers and Vulnerable Groups
- 60 years old and above
- Women with high-risk pregnancies
- Workers with co-morbidities or pre-existing illnesses (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, cancer) or with immunocompromised health status
Strategies of the Department of Health:
- Prevention – for all
- In the battle against COVID-19, we have to prioritize all efforts towards prevention
- Prevention, combined with safety and health, is the cornerstone in controlling the spread of the virus
- Trace and Monitor for Symptoms – contacts of confirmed cases/travel to high-risk areas
- Includes people who live in high-risk areas, possibility that they may be exposed to the virus is high
- Facility/Home Quarantine – close and other contacts
- When the risk of exposure is confirmed, exposed people must be put under quarantine immediately either in a quarantine facility or in their home
- Separate them in order to minimize the risk of passing the virus to others
- Test with RT-PCR and Isolate – Symptomatic and Close Contacts
- Manage Cases – Mild and Severe Symptomatic
Prevention is way more cost-effective
- This is the guiding principle of the DTI-DOLE Interim Guidelines
- Focuses on how to minimize the exposure of people as well as the risk of acquiring the virus
- DTI and DOLE focused on coming up with preventive strategies while crafting the interim guidelines
- Prevention standards:
- Actively monitor the health status of their employees (temperature and symptoms)
- Create a safe working space through physical, space, and time distancing, also regular cleaning
- Provide compassionate policies around leave and sickness
- Cooperate with health authorities in reporting of their office surveillance data as well as in workspace closure when needed
- If a company needs to close their workplace for disinfection, it must be reported to the DOH
Testing the asymptomatic
- The guidelines made use of the word “may” which connotes that employers have the discretion to also conduct the test to asymptomatic employees
- The first protocols provide that it must be conducted with the use of RT-PCR which must prioritize testing symptomatic employees
- In the succeeding tests, company may use the anti-body rapid test kit every fourteen days
- Employers may conduct a test representative sample dependent on the company’s population
- In accordance with the asymptomatic protocol stated in DOH Department Memorandum 2020-0180
- DOH would like to remind that testing for representative asymptomatic employees using RT-PCR is not cost-effective
- But then again, it is up to the employers to decide on what kind of test must employees undergo
- Use symptoms and exposure as entry points for screening
- It is important for employees to answer the symptoms and exposure portion of the Health Monitoring Checklist transparently
- A reminder for employees to exercise honesty and not to go to work when he is feeling unwell as this may unduly expose everyone else to the virus
- Non-pharmaceutical intervention is of utmost importance, hence should be implemented
- All of those protocols provided in the guidelines are non-pharmaceutical interventions
Question and Answer Portion
On the Health Questionnaire
- Should this be done on a daily basis? What about companies with thousands of workers?
- Yes, it should be done on a daily basis. The thing with COVID-19 is that it makes people go from being well to suddenly unwell. Even companies with thousands of workers are no exception. All employees must answer the health checklist questionnaire.
- The system of going online or digital with regard to answering the checklist is good but make sure that once an employee is symptomatic, HR personnel must be aware and monitor the health of that employee.
- The interim guidelines provided for a sample checklist. But, companies can use their own. Just make sure that it covers symptoms and exposure questions.
On caring for employees
- Is it mandatory for companies to provide medicines and vitamins for their employees?
- The phrase used is “enjoin the companies to provide medicines and vitamins”. By standards of bayanihan spirit, everyone should be of help to one another in making medicines and vitamins available to employees.
- If a worker is suspected of having COVID-19 and required to be hospitalized, who shall shoulder the cost of hospitalization and the accompanying medical care or treatment?
- PhilHealth already has a package for this, and even ramped up their package in order to accommodate the costs for complications and necessary management of it.
- If the cause is proven to be work-related, employees are entitled to benefits that the company provides in relation to this
- For the testing, the interim guidelines mention that a company policy shall be formulated and agreed upon between employers and employees. What are the guidelines in the preparation of the company policy?
- If the company is unionized, there should be a social dialogue between the management and the workers’ union. There are sample templates available from DOLE/DTI that can be utilized.
- It is really between the employer and employees regarding the agreement on a particular system. The only challenge is that there are several gray areas on the side of the employees as well as on the side of the employer. Therefore, there shall be a thorough negotiation between the two parties in order to come up with an actionable policy. Everyone should always bear in mind that with what is currently going on, nothing is constant and everything is subject to sudden change.
- Is it okay for a company nurse to provide interpretations for the rapid test kit results?
- Please follow the DOH guidelines, it must be given interpretation by a physician
- Are there any alternative quarantine areas that the establishment or the LGU may provide if the worker’s home is not suited for quarantine purposes?
- If someone is suspected/PUI/PUM, there are already quarantine areas in the LGUs for these kinds of cases. For the public, these quarantine areas can be accessed.
- The interim guidelines provides that “The employer shall enhance health insurance provision for workers”, what form or what kind of enhancement should the employer provide?
- If companies are able to provide employees with HMOs/health cards where they can put it additional services, this will really help the employees. Let us remember that COVID-19 also affects the mental health of workers, they need a wide range of health care that they can avail of when the necessity arises. Therefore, it is very important if mental health packages are also in place.
- Should a company require its employees to first secure a quarantine certificate before allowing him to return to the workplace?
- The barangay may provide for the quarantine certificate, or if not, they can ask their health care providers so that the employees will know where to get a quarantine certificate.
- Is the provision for shuttle service and near-site accommodations mandatory?
- During ECQ, no transportation is available that is why there has been a pronouncement that companies should provide their employees with shuttle services and near-site accommodations. In the GCQ, transport is still not fully operational. There is still going to be a shortage on the available mode of transportation for commuters. If a company has several workers going in, it may want to think about providing shuttle and accommodations for its employees. This is not mandatory, but this will certainly help the employees.
- There is confusion as to what temperature threshold to be used in screening the employees. DTI-DOLE interim guidelines provides for 37ºC, DOH guidelines provides for 38ºC, and PEZA for 37.2ºC. The difference impacts the number of employees who will be granted entry to the workplace.
- Fever is 38ºC, people with fever will no longer go to work. With regard to screening, DTI and DOLE provided for 37.5ºC because caution must be observed, and this is also for prevention of the spread of the virus. 37.5ºC threshold serves as a guide so that if symptoms persist, monitoring and further precautionary measures will be applied.
- The interim guidelines provide for the monthly reporting of illness, diseases, and injuries utilizing the DOLE WAIR form. Are we still required to submit if there is no incident of illness or injury in a particular month? What is the deadline per month?
- Yes, even if there is none, make it a practice to comply with the reporting guidelines. Deadline is before the end of the month.
- If an employee works from home due to COVID-19 as advised by the company, will this be included in man-hours work report by the company?
- Employees in WFH arrangement should also be covered in the report. Slips and falls should also be reported.
- Is the isolation room required for every company or will it be based on the number of employees?
- For every company, an isolation room is very important. An isolation room is situated in an area before an employee can enter the workplace. In this way, the suspected employee is prevented from potentially spreading the virus inside the workplace.
- Is the misting tent recommended in reducing the transmission of COVID-19?
- The DOH also gave out its opinion on misting tents – misting tents is of good use in disinfecting surfaces. But using it for people is not advisable, people may have reaction from the misting solution/disinfectant.
- If you are a high-risk and your employer requires you to report for work, can the employer be required to pay all the medical bills?
- The employer and employee must help each other and help one another. Workers with co-morbidities should not be required to report to work. The company should look into work-from-home arrangements that are suitable for its most at-risk employees.
- How can DTI help companies verify if the PPEs a company purchases pass the standards prescribed by DOH or came from credible sources?
- DTI does random testing of PPEs. As for the standards of PPEs, it follows the FDA rules. Supposedly, any item available in the market should have the mark of quality standards. So, it is important to see these marks in every PPE.
- Is a company allowed to have 50% of its employees report to the head office and 50% to the satellite offices?
- The number depends on the company. Companies should comply with physical distancing requirements. Also, public transport has reduced capacity. All this should be taken into consideration.
- Per EO 112, Category III industries should operate at a maximum of 50% capacity. However, this is not included in the DTI-DOLE interim guidelines. How should companies go about this?
- The DTI/DOLE interim guidelines only provides for health and safety measures. DTI issued a Memorandum Circular to supplement what is provided for in the Omnibus Guidelines: Not all business activities under Category III are allowed to operate in ECQ, but all of them are allowed to operate in GCQ areas. If operating in GCQ areas, Category III businesses are allowed to operate between 50-100% capacity
On sanctions and penalties
- Are we in violation if there will be cases wherein a close coordination between a worker and his supervisor is required? Or in some cases where a buddy-buddy system in close proximity is required to complete a particular task?
- It is important to understand the uniqueness of one’s workplace. This is not actually prohibited. If it is impossible to perform a job without collaborating or working together with other co-workers, then, therefore, everyone should exercise maximum prevention and control – engineering and administrative control shall be observed including the proper wearing of masks and PPEs, sanitizing, and washing of hands.
- What are the sanctions and penalties, or any, if the employer/employee violates the guidelines?
- As long as DTI/DOLE can reach out, they will provide technical assistance to companies in crafting their own health protocols/standards. DTI and DOLE understand the situation of companies struggling to comply with these guidelines. That is why they are working closely with employers to help them comply. As much as possible, DTI and DOLE do not want to apply enforcement policies towards companies. Unless a company persist on not complying, penalties provided by R.A. 11058 (OSH Law) and D.O. 198-18 (OSH Law IRR) will be applied.
- Despite the provision in the Bayanihan Act regarding penalties, DTI and DOLE did not reflect this on the interim guidelines because this is bayanihan – as much as possible, everyone should work together to achieve the common good without the use of force/regulatory powers of the government
Welcome to ECOP's webinar entitled "DTI and DOLE Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19".For this webinar, ECOP invited resource persons from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labor and Employment to discuss the interim guidelines on workplace prevention and control of COVID-19.Program will start at 10:00 am so tune in and comment your question down below!
Posted by Employers Confederation of the Philippines on Thursday, 7 May 2020