Press Release / 21 May 2020
In yesterday's media forum hosted by the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reminded employers that COVID-19 testing is not a requisite before workers can return to work, following the Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention andControlofCOVID-19issued on April 30, 2020.
Section VII of the said guidelines provides that “employers may test workers for COVID-19. Testing kits used and procured shall be the responsibility of the employers.”
According to Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ruth Castelo, the joint interim guidelines aim to assist private businesses allowed to resume operation during the modified enhanced and general community quarantine in developing and enforcing minimum health protocols and standards in the workplace.
Other than covering for the cost of the testing kits, employers who choose to test returning employees must comply with the DOH guidelines on Expanded Testing for COVID-19 and the Guidelines for Securing a License to Operate a COVID-19 Testing Laboratory, released on April 16 and April 7, respectively.
The DOH has previously reiterated that symptomatic cases will be prioritized for testing due to limited supply of ReverseTranscription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test kits.
“We are still coordinating with the critical stakeholders across the country as the new guidelines were just recently announced. In other cases, the LGUs are the primary responders and have chosen to do so based on certain nuances that are particular to their communities,”said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario-Vergeire.
Pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and the Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19, employers are expected to shoulder the costs for all tests and personal protective equipment (PPE) that employees would need during the pandemic.
“We understand the difficulty that will be faced by our businesses, especially the MSMEs, yung mga hindi naman masyadong malalaki ang capitalization. [But] to ensure the safety of their employees and clients, employers need to comply with the interim guidelines issued by DOLE and DTI,” Usec. Castelo stressed.
The joint DTI and DOLE guidelines enumerate four minimum health standards aligned with DOH recommendations: increasing physical and mental resilience, reducing transmission, reducing contact, and reducing the risk of infection.
The joint guidelines enjoin employers to provide free medicines and vitamins to their employees to help them increase physical resilience. They shall also provide adequate referrals to workers needing counselling or presenting mental health concerns.
To help reduce transmission, employers are mandated to ensure constant and proper use of PPEs for those who need them, perform regular disinfection of the workplace, and observe physical distancing. They shall also actively monitor employees’ health by enforcing daily health symptoms questionnaires to be submitted to the company-designated safety officer.
To reduce contact, face-to-face interactions should be limited as much as possible, and alternative work arrangements, if feasible, such as work-from-home or rotating shifts must be adopted.
Workers showing symptoms of COVID-19 should be immediately isolated in a pre-designated area until attended to by clinic personnel in order to proactively manage the risk of infection.
Meanwhile, Labor and Employment Undersecretary Ana Dione appealed to the private sector to show compassion to workers in the comingweeks, as issues such as limited transportation and the presence of vulnerable people in their homes, might affect their reporting patterns.
“Ang gusto lang po natin ay umandar ang ekonomiya, at the same time ay tignan yung kapakanan ng mga manggagawa. Ibalanse po natin and please take care of the workers, ”said Usec. Dione. “We're in a difficult situation, wala po sanang mga disciplinary actions na kaagad-agad gagawin, but take a look at it on a case-to-case basis,” she ended.