HR Talk: “Is the Company Required to Do COVID-19 Testing?” and 9 Other Confusing Questions Answered for Issues related to MECQ

Running a business is tough.

You have to face labor concerns, market your products, sell them, and ensure that money is transmitted in the right way. I think I had a much easier time being part of the corporate world. All I had to worry was my own key performance indicators (KPI),  and my boss will reward me for my job well done.

However, COVID-19 is becoming challenging. This virus has forced us to shutter our stores, stay at home, regroup and restrategize. However, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the government announced that Metro Manila is now under Modified ECQ, which is like ECQ, but it isn’t (Yes, I know it’s malabo), while neighboring cities like Cavite and Batangas are now under GCQ.

As we prepare to get back to work, I have prepared the following Q&A to address how we are following DTI and DOLE’s Guidelines for COVID-19 Prevention and Control (PDF), and what we are doing to prepare our staff in coming back to work.

Here are my Top 10 Questions Answered About Business in the MECQ

1. What is the difference between ECQ, MECQ and GCQ?

This infographic conveniently summarizes the difference between ECQ, Modified ECQ and GCQ:

Phased TransitionThe Biggest Concern during MECQ is the Lack of Public Transportation. 

Public Transport Disallowed in GCQ
Source: 1589345770661484mp4-1 (3)

During MECQ, there is ZERO public transport — No bus, no jeep, no UV Express, no MRTs, and no Angkas. Since Filipinos heavily depend on public transportation to get around, if there are no public transportation available, everyone cannot get to work, period.

public transport

Yes, the company can offer them bicycle/motorcycle, supply shuttle buses, or dorm services for the staff. But it’s up to you to decide if this is a feasible option for you. bicycle

Everyone is on the same boat. Every business has to come up with ingenious ways for staff to come to work. For us, some of the staff can reach work, while others cannot. Hence, if I were to open, those who can come will report and will get paid. And those who are far away and cannot, will not.  Problem solved.

2. What are the documents a business will have to provide to their employees for them to report to work?

For us, we will give the staff the following:

  • Certificate of Employment (COE) with Return to Work Order
    • Printed on company letterhead
    • Indicate purpose — Movement of personnel across NCR
    • Always put the deadline/validity period  — Duration of MECQ and GCQ lockdown
    • State clearly that the document will serve only as a COVID-19 Travel Pass and not for any other purpose
  • Company IDs with their address and place of work

According to Joint Task Force (TF) COVID Shield Chief Major General Guillermo Eleazar, these should be enough to get them through checkpoints in Metro Manila during MECQ.

eleazar

Please note that there’s a limitation for people under GCQ to enter an MECQ area. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told the Inquirer on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, that a person from a general quarantine area (GCQ) can go to a modified enhanced quarantine area (MECQ) only “for work or indispensable purpose.”

3. Are Employers required to provide shuttle services during MECQ?

Last May 14, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the statement, “Kung hindi po kaya talaga ng kumpanya na magbigay ng shuttle o kung walang sasakyan yung kanilang mga empleyado, eh, ‘wag na po muna magbukas (If the company cannot provide a shuttle or their employees don’t have their own vehicles, then do not open for now).”

Eoque

Everyone clamored and tried to interpret what he said. Should employers provide shuttle buses? What if the employer cannot provide shuttle buses? Should businesses shut down because cost-wise, the company cannot provide shuttle buses to its employees? Can employees demand shuttle buses and hatid sundo?

Dongfeng20200407-596x420

We look at what the DOLE requires employers to offer. In all their advisories, none of them said provision of shuttle buses is mandatory. In fact, the only mention was this statement, “If feasible, employers must also provide shuttle services and/or decent accommodation on near-site locations to lessen travel and people movement.”

Shuttle servicesThe definitive term is FEASIBLE. This means, if pwede, okay. If not, pwede din. The government did not say mandatory. So the way I interpret it, companies may or may not provide shuttle buses or hatid sundo if they choose to open during MECQ. While it’s great if they could, they are NOT obliged to do so.

Source

Given this, companies CAN open their businesses without offering shuttle buses. Anyway, even though there is no public transport, employees who want to go to work CAN go to work using private means like motorcycle, buses, private cars, and walking.

Public Transport Disallowed in GCQ

If they come into work, great. If not, that’s fine. But it’s on a no-work-no-pay basis as per Labor Advisory No. 1, Series of 2020, Section 2:

Section 2

By the way, extra note, there’s no color coding yet during ECQ and MECQ. Will update if any changes.

4. Can employers legally terminate employees who refuse to come to work?

This question is particularly sensitive because it’s COVID-19 season. Everyone is somewhat afraid of their lives. Many cite their workplace as a place of unsafe work, and refuse to report to work. You may see this going around the internet, and think “Hey, I can tell my boss I won’t report and he can’t fire me!”

Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

WRONG.

Please do not take the law out of context. You don’t make an infographic of two people in face masks and then assume that this Act can be directly applicable to our current situation, without proper basis. Let’s dive into the details of RA 11058, Act Strengthening Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Standards further:

Right to refuse unsafe work

Please note that to use the RA 11058 as an excuse to skip work, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) must first determine that an imminent danger situation exists in the workplace that may result to death or illness. Workers can report directly to the DOLE or other competent government agencies accidents, dangerous occurrences and hazards in the work place. As a preventive measure, Section 6 of D.O. 198-18 (Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 11058) also grants the company’s safety officer the discretion to implement work stoppage or suspension of operations in cases of imminent danger.

Take for example, someone in the workplace is COVID-19 positive. And your employer does not take action. You report the worker’s presence to DOLE. DOLE or the safety officer comes in and inspects, finally declaring that Imminent danger in the workplace. Only then can you use this clause and not come to work.

The rule is clear, “A Work Stoppage Order (WSO) shall be issued as soon as the imminent danger situation is confirmed to exist by the DOLE. Workers may validly refuse to work until the lifting of the WSO. The law affords protection to the safety officer and workers against retaliatory acts or reprisals.”

There has to be proof that there’s imminent danger before one can use the “unsafe to go to work” rule.

What will happen if I refuse to report to work?

I think it’s up to the company how they want to proceed. For me, it depends.

If the employee truly is 55 years old and is recovering from a weak immune system, for goodness sakes, just let him stay home and put him on floating status for the meantime. Anyway, what’s the loss, if there’s no work no pay?

However, if the person’s as healthy as a horse and cannot give me any medical reason on why I should allow him/her to stay at home, if the role is critical, I will still ask him/her to come to work. If his house is just right in the neighborhood and he can, then he should.

Again it depends. USE BOTH YOUR HEART AND MIND TO MAKE THIS DECISION.

DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez made a statement that a worker might lose his/her job if the worker still refuses to go to work:

DTI Chief

But the DTI is not DOLE, so while the ECQ is there, just be careful of this advisory:

Personally, I’d wait till MECQ is lifted to be stricter with attendance. If the role is not as critical, let the guy go and rest at home. But if the role is critical, talk to the guy and persuade him to report. Anyway, the MECQ is only 15 days. The business will not die if you wait till MECQ is lifted to impose serious sanctions.

REMINDER: To terminate a staff, always follow due process.

Fellow HR Richard DeDios succinctly explains it:

The possible case will be Serious Misconduct or Willful Disobedience (Article 297.a) not Gross and Habitual Neglect of Duty (Article 297.b). The latter requires that the employee did it repeatedly or habitually as in the case of habitual absences or tardiness.

With regards to due process, there is no need for warning just the observance of the twin notice (1st Notice – NTE, Admin Hearing, 2nd Notice – Notice of Disciplinary Action/Termination).

Normally if we send a Return to Work Order and the employee did not comply with it and continue being absent, the reason for termination is not insubordination but abandonment of work which falls under Serious Misconduct.

DOLE Department Order 147 Series of 2015 serve as our IRR for termination due to Just and Authorized Causes, and the requirement of Due Process.

termination

For any other questions regarding Termination, please feel free to click, HR Talk: “I was terminated during ECQ. What now?” and 11 Other Questions Answered About being Fired!

5. Are employers required to do any COVID-19 testing for their employees? 

Yes and no.

In general though, most employers are NOT required to do any COVID-19 testing for their employees. If you want to, great. But if you don’t want to, that’s fine with DOLE. In the DTI and DOLE Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19 issued last April 30, they used the operative word, “may.”

This clearly means it’s NOT mandatory to test your staff. However, if you wish to do so, testing has to be at the Employer’s account.

COVID Testing

But if so, testing must be done at Employer’s Expense:

There are some LGUs that require testing but this is not nationwide. Here are the LGUs who are requiring testing:

  • San Juan at employer’s expense
  • Paranaque at employer’s expense
  • Caloocan at employer’s expense
  • Marikina but at city’s expense (Yay!)

San Juan

San Juan for example is making it mandatory for employers to test their employees.

San Juan

For San Juan, employers have to get the MECQ Health and Travel Certificate for each employee from the City Health Office. If you got yourself tested before May 17, you have to redo the test again! My friend will call tomorrow to see what are the requirements needed.

Annnnddddd…. two days later, the San Juan government retracts (May 18 at 5pm):

San Juan

This is for Paranaque:

Caloocan

 

So if your LGU says you need to test, you need to test. Check with your LGU on what their ruling will be.

What about Quezon City?

Strongly advised is key. Este, not mandatory yet as of May 17, 2pm:

We will still test our workers though.

The best test available right now is the rtPCR (Swab Test). This is what it looks like and I heard it hurts like hell.

covid test

They are also relatively expensive, costing Php 4,000 at Red Cross, Php 5,000 at Chinese General Hospital, and Php 9,000 at St. Luke’s with an average 48 hour turnaround time. However, while they are more accurate than rapid tests, they are still not 100% fool proof.

A family friend was checked in one of the best private hospitals in Manila last April 2020 for a case of pneumonia. He did the swab test twice but tested negative. As his conditions worsened, he was placed in ICU and was intubated (e.g., The process of placing a tube inside the lungs of the patient thru the mouth that is connected to a respirator to assist in breathing). On his third COVID-19 test, it was revealed that he was actually positive of COVID-19. The declaration came a day after he died.

For our workers, we will do a one-time Rapid Test for them.

Why?

Because we have a lot of people. So it’s impractical to do swab tests for them, lest we bankrupt the company. If that’s the case, we should just stay closed.

The rapid test offers us a cheaper alternative, costing Php 450 to 1,500 per test. While rapid tests have a 14% level of inaccuracy, still getting a rapid test done gives your employees some peace of mind. This also ensures that those who are identified COVID-19 Positives from the get go are NOT allowed to start and mix with those who have tested negative. If they are positive, they should stay at home. This is what the DOH and DOLE recommends:

DOH Baseline

We will get our rapid test from GoNegosyo’s ProjectArk. Price is php450-600 per pc and they are FDA approved:

Ayan, ayaw ko kasi ng scammers who markup FDA tests aggressively. I know already tests are not accurate. Having it done in a hospital does NOT make it any more accurate.

These are the FDA Approved Rapid Test Kits:

FDA 1FDA 2FDA 3FDA 4FDA 5

 

Disclaimer: Rapid Test Kits are Not 100% Accurate

This is the position paper of the Philippine College of Physicians and the Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases regarding rapid test kits:

up

Rapid tests have low sensitivity and specificity — It is only accurate once you have been exposed for around 14 days, and your body has developed antibodies. If you have a fever and have the budget, it’s better to use the rt PCR and not test kits. However, given that we are not in a critical industry and we have more than 20 people, we choose to do rapid tests instead.

Yes, I am aware that the rapid test kit is around 14% inaccurate. However, a rapid test kit it’s still better than doing zero tests. It is more dangerous if you did nothing and unintentionally mixed a COVID-19 positive worker into the mix. The rapid test kit is still the next best thing for businesses especially when you have more than 5 people. Buyer’s beware though. Here are the risks of choosing rapid test kits in your company:

Rapit Test 1Rapid Test 0Rapid Test 6

Rapid Test 4Rapit Test 3

 

6. Can employers legally place workers in a Flexible-Work Arrangement (FWA)?

YES. According to DOLE Labor Advisory No. 9, Series of 2020, Guidelines on the Implementation of Flexible Work Arrangements as Remedial Measure due to the Ongoing Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019, employers are encouraged to pursue flexible work arrangements so that companies can do social distancing, save cash flow and ensure continuity in case one of our employees tests positive.

Flexible work arrangements

The rules are clear: If one staff is tested COVID-19 positive, all the staff present that day will be put on 14-day quarantine, rendering that cluster useless. When everyone is present, everyone has to stay at home if only one of them tests positive, crippling the entire organization. Hence, it’s better to divide the company in multiple clusters to ensure that the business will still run even if one staff tests positive for COVID-19:

COVID Testing2

Since our office is small, space would be tight if everyone came in. There would be no social distancing, which would place us in trouble. So a FWA is a great option for businesses. Companies can temporarily reduce workdays and place everyone on a 3- or 4-day work week.  This is perfectly legal and allowed.

For more details on how the FWA will proceed, I look into Labor Advisory No. 2, Series of 2009, Guidelines on the Adoption of Flexible Work Arrangements:

FWA

Just a warning, FWA should not last more than six (6) months. If you are going to do an FWA, please fill up the 1) Establishment Report on COVID-19 and 2) Report on the Adoption of Flexible Work Arrangements During Economic Difficulties and National Emergencies. Submit it to closest DOLE Regional Office which has jurisdiction over the workplace as soon as possible.

The Establishment Report on COVID-19 looks like this. Yes, it’s the same form we submitted to DOLE.

Establishment

Download the Word Version ER-COVID19-Monitoring-Form HERE.

The Report on the Adoption of Flexible Work Arrangements During Economic Difficulties and National Emergencies looks like this:

DOLE Form

Please read Question 9, “They told me that I’m on Floating Status. No work, no pay daw. Is this legal?in full before putting people in floating status. It can be a bit tricky especially beyond the three month mark, so it’s crucial you read the fine print before pushing this button.

7. Can employees demand Hazard Pay during this time?

The Senate Bill 1418 which grants President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to stop the COVID-19 spread, also mandates hazard pay for all frontline health workers during the ongoing state of calamity in the country. With this bill:

a. All public health workers are protected by providing them with a ‘COVID-19 special risk allowance’, in addition to the hazard pay granted under the Magna Carta of the Public Health Workers or Republic Act No. 7305,”

Hazard pay for public sectorSource

b. Public and private health workers who will contract COVID-19 while on duty will be entitled to receive P100,000 from the government.

c. If they die while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private medical practitioners will be given P1 million each.

d. Philhealth is mandated to shoulder the hospitalization costs of all medical workers who will contract the disease.

But as for the Private Sector? Coach Darwin Rivers answers:

Hazard Pay

In short, there are no hazard pay for workers in the private sector. It’s still company discretion whether to give or not.

8. What if Employees get sick of COVID-19, can they demand employers to pay their hospital bill?

Off the top of mind, no. I remind our employees that that’s what the government mandatory benefits are there for. If they get sick or test positive of COVID-19, there are two health-related benefits to avail of:

  1. Philhealth COVID-19 packages to qualified employees: IMPORTANT: It’s better to be tested positive of COVID-19 to gain maximum health benefits. A family friend had a fever and went to the hospital for check-up. She was refused admittance until she went to St. Luke’s QC, which charged her an arm and a leg at the emergency room. Since she had a fever, she was identified as a potential candidate for COVID-19. After running some tests and a few days stay in the hospital, it was determined she only had Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), and had to pay more than Php 300,000 in hospital bills. Good thing she was rich enough to afford her hospital bills.
  2. SSS Sickness Benefit (90% of average daily salary computed by SSS, up to 120 days) if you qualify:
    1. The member is unable to work due to sickness/injury and confined at hospital for at least (4) days.
    2. She has paid at least 3 months of SSS contributions within the 12-month period immediately before the semester of sickness or injury
    3. Has submitted a Sickness Benefit Application with the SSS directly. Notify your supervisor within five (5) calendar days after the start of sickness. For expediency, staff are asked to directly file with SSS within 10 days after start of sickness, bringing their:
      • Duly accomplished Sickness Benefit Application (SBA)
      • Identification card/s or document/s (List in the SSS site)
      • Medical documents, if any
      • Plus the following documents, In case of prolonged confinements, original/CTC of following:Laboratory, X-ray, ECG and other diagnostic results
        1. Operating room/clinical records that will support diagnosis
        2. Certificate of Non-Advancement of Payment from Employer (Company will provide this doc)
  3. Additional Health Coverage if your company has the budget

The best random person who private messaged me to offer me health coverage is Louise Eliesse Go from FWD-Security Bank:

Kanmed

Louise said, “For the Kanmend, if COVID-19 leads to any critical illness covered, we will give you the Php 100,000. For Php 1,799, you’re covered for 1 year. The package includes Telemedicine as well. You can do medical consultations through phone through KonsultaMD. This application is done online as well. Apply in minutes and pay through your debit or credit card.”

I’m not a big believer of health coverage and I do not know Louise personally. However, if you are interested, you may inquire more about the product as a competitor, Maxicare only covers up to Php 15,000 for a price of Php 899.

Maxicare

9. What are my Company Measures and Protocols to Prevent the Transmission of COVID-19?

Here’s mine, short and sweet but contains the rules we believe is applicable to our workplace. The complete memo can be downloaded here:

Workplace Rules for COVDI

Attached is a printer-friendly Health Systems Questionnaire, which I will share with you. I reformatted it so that there will be two forms instead of one in one sheet of paper to save on printing costs. It has the exact content with the DOLE sheet. We will ask all employees and visitors to fill in the form and file them.

Visitors Checklist
Downloadable Form Here: VISITOR’S HEALTH CHECKLIST – General.

Daily Temperature Check

We will also ask the Employees to fill up this Temperature Check form so that we have a summary on their temperature per day.

Daily Temperature Check
Downloadable PDF: Temperature Health Check – General

For our printing needs, I highly recommend this supplier. Rates are reasonable and they are a small business so share the love:

We will copy furnish DOLE a monthly reporting using the DOLE Work Accident/Illness Report Form.

Reporting

10. Where did your company order your medical supplies?

There’s so many people selling medical supplies right now. Even my real estate agent is in the medical supplies game. In the end, you just have to close your eyes and jump. Please note that none of these suppliers are my personal friends. I am ordering from them because they offer the best deals in the market today (PM me if you find cheaper). After canvassing, they are as follows:

a. Disinfectants and hand soap from NUDE Essentials:

Nude Essentials

Germicidalb. Infrared Thermometers from Lazada (Php 1,390)

Infrared Thermomenter

c. Disinfectant Mat – I got from Juby Lim. Everybody else was selling for Php 1,200 or more. Too expensive.

Juby

d. Safety Face Shields from Shoppee (Php 290)

Safety Shields

e.  Face Shield for Office Workers (Light) @ Php 73/pc

Glass and Mask

BONUS QUESTION: I have all of that. Now, can we report to work?

Wait a minute, you still have to check with your local LGU if they have additional requirements for MECQ Business Clearance. Everyone might be ready to come to work, and as it turns out, you can’t open because you have no MECQ Business Clearance. Yes, there is such a thing:

Oh no

Specifically, San Juan has taken the lead in making it slightly more difficult for businesses to open during MECQ:

San Juan 1San Juan 2

This is For Makati

For owners and managers of business establishments in Makati City that will open during the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), you are all required to submit a Notice of Re-Opening to the city’s Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO).

The notice can be submitted using the following means that can be accessed starting on Monday, 18 May 2020: Makati BPLO portal (bit.ly/MakatiBPLOReopening), the city’s website (www.makati.gov.ph), and the Makatizen App.

#StaySafeStayHome

LAST WORDS

I will update this post as soon as more details become available. As Metro Manila transitions from ECQ to MECQ to GCQ, it’s been a wild roller coaster ride of changes, confusion and stress. Many of the orders had been very chopsuey.

roller coaster

If there’s any correction or changes, kindly PM me so that I can update this document of the latest news and information for businesses maneuvering during MECQ.

Thanks for reading!

Disclaimer

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17 thoughts on “HR Talk: “Is the Company Required to Do COVID-19 Testing?” and 9 Other Confusing Questions Answered for Issues related to MECQ

  1. Another great job! If I could just provide one suggestion, because of the different font styles & sizes in the content, it’s a bit hard to follow the flow of the main text. If you could just perhaps put some distinguishing marks, like a border, around external content, it would help immensely. Cheers!

  2. Hello mam, may I ask where did you get a copy of the MECQ guidelines for the LGUs? Can I have copy of the guidelines per LGUs? I can’t seem to find it. Thank you so much

  3. To be honest…this was the best INFORMATION for us employers and employees. Very comprehensive and accurate. Can I share this one in my personal account or company’s website?

    1. They change every two weeks but it depends. DOLE Advisories remain steady for months. What is your question?

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