The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency over a new coronavirus that has killed 563 people in mainland China. More than 28,299 cases have been reported worldwide of which 3,863 (14%) are in critical condition, most of them in China’s Hubei province. A man from Wuhan also died in the Philippines on February 2 and Hong Kong reported its first death on February 4. At least 28 countries have confirmed cases.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has ordered all employers to maintain a clean workplace and to monitor the health of their workers to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
DOLE Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III issued Labor Advisory 4, which laid down the guidelines to prevent and control the spread of the new coronavirus at workplaces. This applies to all employers and workers in the private sector.
All employers are directed to follow the precautionary measures at the workplace. Employers should provide information about 2019-nCoV including its transmission, disease outcome, and treatment options to their workers; clean the work areas with disinfectant and ensure that water, soap and sanitizer are available in all washrooms; avoid or reduce direct exposure of workers to animals, environments and objects which may be possibly carrying the 2019-nCoV.
In addition, employers should ensure food in canteens or similar areas is properly prepared, handled and cooked; emphasize to all workers the everyday actions to stay healthy and keep a clean workplace, such as covering the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing; wash hands frequently with soap and water or cleansing of hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizers; spit at proper places; avoid close contact with sick people; increase the body’s resistance by having adequate rest and at least eight (8) hours of sleep; drink plenty of fluids; and eat nutritious food; and monitor the health of workers particularly those with fever and other flu symptoms and those who have traveled to or worked in countries affected with the 2019-nCoV.
For workplaces with imminent danger situations where workers are evidently at risk to infection as in health care and other frontline services, the employer must take “extra” precautionary measures, which include strict hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like respirators such as N95, gowns, gloves) is properly work by the workers while at work and disposed of accordingly after use. Concerns and/or reports of 2019-nCoV shall be coordinated with the Department of Health (DOH).
For the care of a sick worker or if a worker is suspected of having the novel coronavirus, the employer should provide the worker with a face mask; isolate the worker immediately in a separate well-ventilated room in the workplace, away from other employees; refer the worker to the company health care provider or to the nearest hospital for laboratory confirmation; report the worker to the Department of Health by calling numbers: 8-711-1001 and 8-711-1002; ensure the implementation of recommendations provided by the DOH on the management and transport of suspected coronavirus case; observe respiratory precautions when taking care of patients with flu or flu-like illness and decontaminate the work area with appropriate disinfectant.
If a worker is sick or has fever but is not suspected to have 2019-nCoV, the employer must advise the employee to stay at home and keep away from work or crowds; take adequate rest and plenty of fluids; practice personal hygiene; seek appropriate medical care if there is persistent fever and when there is difficulty in breathing or when the employee becomes weak.
PhilHealth members and their dependents who contracted the new coronavirus may avail of PhilHealth hospital benefits and also workers are also entitled to sickness benefits under the Social Security System and employees’ compensation benefits. In the event that the worker is not qualified to avail of the benefits under SSS or PhilHealth due to the fault of the employer, the employer shall shoulder all the medical expenses under full recovery.
On Leave entitlements, for workers who are requested to stay at home or who are served quarantine order by their employers, their leave of absence may be charged to their annual sick or vacation leave credits under the company policy or as stipulated in their collective bargaining agreement.
If the worker’s leave credits have been used up, employers could consider granting leave of absence without pay. However, employers are encouraged to exercise flexibility and compassion in granting additional leave with pay. Employers and employees could also agree on other arrangements for the worker’s leave of absence.
Employers are also encouraged to adopt a “flexible and enlightened” approach in granting time-off for workers who need to take a leave to take care of their children or parents infected or suspected of having 2019-nCoV. For workers who have used up their vacation or sick leave credits, employers could consider granting them leave of absence without pay.
END/Patrick T Rillorta