Published 31 August 2020, The Daily Tribune

Last May, I wrote an article on the Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19 which the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labor and Employment jointly issued on 30 April 2020. Recently, on 14 August 2020, the two government agencies issued a 14-page Joint Memorandum Circular No. 20-04 (JMC 20-04) or the “DTI and DOLE Supplemental Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19”, which sets forth more comprehensive health protocols inside the workplace.

In this article, I will discuss the notable changes or additions in the existing workplace protocols to combat the spread of the World’s No. 1 enemy, the COVID-19.

First, the supplemental workplace protocols specifically included in its coverage private establishments, regardless of economic activity, located inside special economic zones and other areas under the jurisdiction of Investment Promotion Agencies such as the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, Clark Development Corporation, Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan, Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport.

Second, JMC 20-04 obligates employers to provide their employees psychosocial support, especially those presenting mental health concerns. Employers shall likewise promote work-life balance during these trying times. In addition, the said joint issuance mandates advocacy awareness raising programs such as webinars, virtual lectures and trainings on COVID-19, its prevention and control, and best practices to be attended by all employees and management.

Third, minimum public health standards not only require the use face masks but also, face shields to be worn inside the work premises. Face shields shall cover the entire face, and visor-type face shields shall not be allowed.

Fourth, employers classified as large and medium sized private establishments (those with total assets above Php15Million) are enjoined to provide shuttle services to their employees. JMC 20-04 clarified that assets shall refer to total assets, inclusive of those arising  from loans but exclusive of the land on which the particular business entity’s office, plant and equipment are situated, pursuant to Section 2, R.A. No. 9501 (Magna Carta for MSMEs). Use of face shields and face masks, physical distancing and frequent disinfection inside the shuttle shall be observed.

Fifth, most-at-risk population (e.g. senior citizens, pregnant women, individuals with underlying health conditions) and those below 21 years old shall continue to observe work-from-home arrangements. When needed to report to work onsite, they should secure a Certificate of Fit to Work from the Occupational and Safety Health (OSH) personnel.

Sixth, the revised Employee’s Health Declaration Form (HDF), attached Annex A-1 of JMC 20-04, shall be handled and processed in accordance with the Data Privacy Act to ensure, among others, that the personal data collected shall be considered highly confidential and shall be stored only for a limited period and disposed of properly after 30 days from date of accomplishment.

Seventh, large and medium private establishments (i.e. with total assets of more than Php15Million) and establishments with multiple tenants are encouraged to designate an isolation area of one room for every 200 employees, which shall not be the company clinic and must be situated near entrances. The isolation room must be disinfected once every 2 hours. Malls and buildings shall have at least one (1) isolation area near the entrances.

Eighth, JMC 20-04 defines “close contacts” as employees with exposures 2 days before or within 14 days from onset of symptoms of a suspect, confirmed or probable case. Exposure refers to any of the following:

(a) face-to-face contact with a confirmed case within 1 meter and for more than 15 minutes, with or without a mask;

(b) direct physical contact with a confirmed case; or

(c) direct care for a patient with probable or confirmed COVID-19 disease without using PPEs.

Close contacts of COVID-19 positive employees shall undergo a 14-day quarantine period, and should they remain asymptomatic during said period, they may return to work without need for a test.

Ninth, JMC 20-04 provides a list of priority workers to undergo RT-PCR test:

  1. once every 4 weeks for all employees in the hospitality and tourism sectors in El Nido, Boracay, Coron, Panglao, Siargao and other tourist zones as may be declared and identified by the Department of Tourism;
  2. once every quarter for all employees of manufacturing companies and public services providers in economic zones;
  3. once every quarter for Frontline and Economic Priority Workers, who work in transport and logistics, food retail, education, financial services, non-food retail, services, market vendors, construction, water supply, sewerage and waste management, public sector (judges, courtroom clerks and staff, all national and local government employees rendering frontline services), and mass media.

Employers are highly encouraged to regularly send their employees for testing once every quarter, at no cost to the employees.

Tenth, all employees experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and those who are close contacts must undergo RT-PCR testing. Employers shall inform the LGU having jurisdiction over (i) the workplace and (ii) the respective residences of the symptomatic employees and close contacts before testing for monitoring purposes.

Eleventh, symptomatic employees shall undergo 14-day quarantine, and prior to resumption of work, shall secure and present a Certificate of Quarantine Completion from a DOH or LGU identified facility.

Twelfth, for asymptomatic employees returning to work, RT-PCR or antibody-based test is neither recommended nor required. But they should secure clearance from either the local health officer or OSH physician prior to physically returning to work.

Lastly, even before testing, the OSH officer/employer must report COVID-19 positive employees, symptomatic employees, and their close contacts, to the local health office having jurisdiction over the workplace and the Barangay Health Emergency Team of their place of residence.

The effective prevention and control of the COVID-19 inside the workplace heavily depend on the joint responsibility and discipline of both employers and employees to observe and comply with the foregoing protocols at all times.

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