Work in the time of COVID-19: Understanding DOLE’s guidelines for flexible work arrangements

In response to the alarming spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Philippines, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued Labor Advisory No. 9-2020 on March 4, 2020.

Entitled “Guidelines on the Implementation of Flexible Work Arrangements as Remedial Measure Due to the Ongoing Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” the advisory describes various options that employers and employees can use to keep their organizations running amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and other protective measures implemented to address the current coronavirus outbreak.

Defining “flexible work arrangements”

The term “flexible work arrangements” may refer to any variations applied to an organization’s “traditional or standard” work schedules in order to continue operating while complying with efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. For many businesses, the “standard work schedule” involves a 40-hour work week, typically scheduled from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (or some slight variation thereof) from Monday to Friday. Some companies also include Saturday workdays. These standard schedules commonly require employees being physically present at the premises of the company.

According to DOLE, the proposed flexible work arrangements are adaptive working conditions, that present a more desirable and practical way to keep companies running during the pandemic. With these flexible arrangements, organizations can avoid the need to terminate employee services or the total closure of establishments.

The advisory makes clear that any flexible work arrangements implemented because of the COVID-19 crisis are only temporary in nature and are subject to the company’s needs and circumstances.

Types of flexible work arrangements

The DOLE advisory lists three general modes of flexible work arrangements that companies may consider for their employees:

  • Reduction of work hours and/or work days
  • Rotation of workers (where employees are subjected to rotating or alternating work schedules or duties)
  • Forced leaves (where employees are forced to use their leave credits to skip work for several days or weeks)

While the above options are highlighted in the DOLE advisory, the department also encourages companies to “explore other alternative work arrangements” that suit the nature of their work best. The goal of every company should be to “cushion and mitigate” the effects of any loss of income that employees are expected to experience during the outbreak.

How flexible work arrangements must be implemented

Before implementing any new work arrangements in a company, employers are advised to first consult their employees.

Organizations that decide to implement flexible work arrangements must post a copy of the advisory in the workplace. They must also notify DOLE through the Regional, Provincial, or Field Office which has jurisdiction over their place of work. The department has issued a proper report form for this purpose. The form may also be used if the company intends to file for temporary closure.

In case there are differences in the interpretation of flexible work arrangements in a company, employers and employees must follow the following guidelines:

  • Any differences will be treated as grievances and will be subject to the company’s prevalent grievance mechanism.
  • If the company has no grievance mechanism in-house, the grievance shall be referred to the DOLE Regional Office concerned for appropriate conciliation.
  • Employers must be prepared to present documentary requirements to prove that they adopted flexible working arrangements to facilitate the resolution of grievances.

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority has also announced its policy on supporting registered Ecozone I.T. Enterprises during the pandemic. PEZA’s proposed courses of action include, but are not limited to:

  • Authorizing work-from-home arrangements for employees delivering critical I.T. services, employees exhibiting symptoms related or similar to those of COVID-19, and employees suspected of exposure to persons infected with COVID-19 or have exhibited symptoms thereof.
  • Re-assignment of employees to other work venues, including both PEZA-registered facilities and non-registered buildings or facilities.
  • Increasing the number of employees as needed by the company.

Read the full details of PEZA’s Memorandum Circular 2020-011 here.

Does your company need help on how to navigate the business landscape in light of the COVID-19 outbreak? Let the trusted legal experts at Duran & Duran-Schulze Law be your guide through these challenging times. Call us today at (+632) 478 5826 or send an email to info@duranschulze.com to learn more.