All private establishments regardless of economic activity, including those located inside special economic zones and other areas under the jurisdiction of Investment Promotion Agencies are covered by the Supplemental Guidelines.
In addition to the minimum public health standards under the Interim Guidelines, employers are required to comply with the following additional standards in the workplace.
Workplace Safety and Health
- Employers shall provide their employees with psychosocial support to increase the latter's mental resilience. Employers shall likewise promote work-life balance through proper scheduling of activities and workforce rotation.
- In addition to the mandatory wearing of face masks, observance of physical distancing, and frequent disinfection, all employees in the workplace are now required to use face shields. Face shields should to cover the entire face and, together with face masks, should always be worn when interacting with others. Face shields may be removed according to the demands of the work or when the occupational safety and health of the employees so requires.
- Display of signages/visual cues and reminders to practice proper handwashing and other hygiene behaviors among employees is mandatory.
- Large and medium sized private establishments (i.e., with total assets of above Php 15M) are enjoined to provide shuttle services for their employees. Minimum public health standards should be enforced in the shuttle services (i.e., use of face shields and face masks, observance of physical distancing, and frequent disinfection).
- Adequate ventilation should be strictly enforced inside the workplace and inside the shuttle service.
- Inside the workplace - Natural air flow exchange is highly encouraged. If possible, the installation of exhaust fans and air filtration devices, as well as the recalibration of building heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems should be explored.
- Inside the shuttle service - Physical distancing, the wearing of face masks and face shields, and proper disinfection before and after each use of the vehicle are mandatory. The opening of windows, with at least three (3) inches of opening, while in transit should be practiced whenever possible.
- The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Committee shall facilitate webinars, virtual lectures and trainings related to COVID-19 to be attended by employees and the management.
- Designated smoking areas in the workplaces shall be provided with individual "booths," subject to the applicable requirements and standards.
- The most-at-risk population (MARP) for COVID-19 in the workplace (i.e., senior citizens, pregnant women, individuals with co-morbidities or underlying health conditions) and those below 21 years old, shall continue to observe work-from-home arrangements. They may be allowed to report physically to work when needed occasionally, provided they secure a certificate of fit to work from the OSH personnel and they must stay in the workplace only for a specified number of hours.
- Mass gathering in the workplace is restricted (i.e., only 10% of seating capacity for meeting rooms in high/moderate-risk areas (e.g., confined spaces) and a maximum of 50% seating capacity for low-risk areas (e.g., open areas)). Videoconferencing shall always be used for meetings with a large attendance of employees and/or for meetings lasting longer than 15 minutes. The employer's safety officer will determine the maximum number of employees allowed to stay at any given time in areas where they usually converge during breaks, or before/after work shifts.
- Employers shall adopt staggered meal schedules. Dining in canteens may be allowed subject to compliance with requirements (e.g., talking is prohibited, no buffets and use of communal items, signages, physical barriers).
Management of Cases in the Workplace
- As much as practicable, employers shall minimize the duration of customer transactions to less than 15 minutes.
- Employers shall ensure that employees have access to telemedicine services. Large and medium sized private enterprises are strongly encouraged to provide their own telemedicine services, in the absence of an HMO.
- Large and medium sized private establishments and establishments with multiple tenants are now mandated to designate an isolation area of one room for every 200 employees. The isolation area shall have adequate ventilation, chairs, and a dedicated restroom. It shall be disinfected once every two (2) hours and/or immediately after any infected or confirmed COVID-19 employee leaves the area.
Private establishments unable to establish an isolation area may make arrangements with a temporary treatment and monitoring facility nearby or with the Barangay Local Government Unit (LGU), for immediate referral of employees who fulfill the criteria for isolation.
- Employers shall ensure strict compliance with the protocols established by the DOH and LGUs for contact tracing of employees in close contact with a COVID-19 case. Referral of symptomatic individuals shall be coordinated to the nearest health care facility. Customers, including visitors, entering private establishments/business premises shall be required to accomplish the Contact Tracing Form. Employers shall explore the use of technology, such as contactless forms.
- Certain priority workers may be made to undergo RT-PCR test in the indicated frequency under the Supplemental Guidelines.
- All employees experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and those who are close contacts of COVID-19 cases shall undergo RT-PCR test.
Symptomatic employees with travel/exposure to COVID-19 shall undergo fourteen (14) days quarantine. Upon its completion and prior to return to work, the employee shall present to the employer a Certificate of Quarantine Completion from the step-down care facility or local health office.
- Asymptomatic employees returning to work are not required nor recommended to undergo RT-PCR or antibody-based tests. Employees physically reporting to work shall be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and/or determined of travel or exposure to COVID-19 cases within the last 14 days. Asymptomatic employees may be cleared by the local health officer or OSH physician prior to physically returning to work.
Notification and Reporting
- 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.
- Reporting to the DOLE shall be made in accordance with the Interim Guidelines.
Disinfection and Closure of Buildings/Workplaces
- If one (1) confirmed case of COVID-19 is detected in the workplace, the facility shall be disinfected. The building must be locked down for 24 hours prior to disinfection to lessen transmission to sanitation personnel, and may only be reopened 24 hours after the disinfection process.
In case of case clustering, or when there are two or more confirmed cases from the same area/facility whether in the same/different office spaces, employers are encouraged to develop their own company policies on the temporary closure of the workplace, disinfection, and more extensive contact tracing. Employers must also abide by the directives/advice of their LGU on building closure.
Leaves of Absence and Entitlements
- Employers are highly encouraged to provide sick leave benefits, medical insurance coverage, including supplemental pay allowance, for COVID-19 RT-PCR test confirmed employees or close contacts made to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Actions to consider
The Supplemental Guidelines seeks to further strengthen the preventive and control measures in the workplace against COVID-19. Some of these additional measures, however, may be a cause for concern among employers in light of its effects on business operations, especially the new requirements on lockdown prior to and after disinfection and the provision of an isolation area of one room for every 200 employees. There may be a need for the DOLE to issue further clarifications on these matters for the guidance of all covered establishments.
At any rate, employers should review their existing policies and protocols to ensure compliance with the Supplemental Guidelines and observe best practices within the workplace to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. In case of non-compliance with the prescribed minimum health protocols, the Supplemental Guidelines provides for the temporary closure of the private establishment until full compliance.
* * * * *
*Authored by Quisumbing Torres, a member firm of Baker & McKenzie International, a Swiss Verein. Please contact QTInfoDesk@quisumbingtorres.com for inquiries.