The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has issued on Aug. 14 the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 2020-04 or the DTI and DOLE Supplemental Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that this is so far the most comprehensive set of guidelines for the health and safety of workers.

“We understand the added burden for our employers and workers but we request for everyone’s full cooperation as we stress the need to lower the transmission in the workplace,” says DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez, adding that everyone will have to practice self-discipline and self-regulation.

According to DTI’s official website, the JMC underwent several consultations with health experts, local government units, and business groups to ensure that it represents the interests of all key sectors.

Here are the guidelines:

I. COVERAGE

This Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) shall apply to all private establishments regardless of economic activity, including those located inside special economic zones and other areas under the jurisdiction of Investment Promotion Agencies (e.g. Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), Clark Development Corporation (CDC), Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB), Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (APECO, etc.)).

II. WORKPLACE SAFETY AND HEALTH

Employers are required to implement all necessary workplace safety and health programs, including the following COVID-related programs, at no cost to the employees:

A. Increase Physical and Mental Resilience

1. Employers shall provide their employees with psychosocial support, especially those presenting mental health concerns. If this is not available, a referral system to mental health specialists must be in place, either through establishing a network with an accredited health facility, through telemedicine services, or through the National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 0917-899-8727 (0917-899- USAP) and (02) 7-989-8727 ((02)-7-989-USAP).

2. Employers shall likewise promote work-life balance, especially in these trying times through proper scheduling of activities and workforce rotation.

3. Company policies on prevention and control of COVID-19 should be aligned with the existing minimum public health standards and guidelines issued by the Department of Health (DOH) and other regulatory agencies.

B. Reducing Transmission of COVID-19

1. The following are the minimum public health standards to be complied with in all workplaces:

a. Masks

i. Face masks must be worn at all times.
ii. Medical grade masks are highly encouraged and should be properly disposed of after use.
iii. Masks with vents should not be used.
iv. Cloth masks, with additional filters such as tissue paper or similar material, may be used as long as they are clean and washed daily. The filter should be changed daily or after every sneezing or coughing episode, and should be properly disposed of after use. Hands should be washed/disinfected before replacing the filters.
v. Frequent mask handling and manipulation should be avoided.

b. Face shields

i. Face shields shall cover the entire face (completely cover the sides and length of the face). If possible, face shields should extend to the ears and below the chin.
ii. Visor-type face shields shall not be allowed.
iii. Face shields and masks should always be worn together when interacting with colleagues, clients and/or visitors.
iv. Face shields may be removed according to the demands of the work or when the occupational safety and health of the employees so requires.

c. Physical Distancing

i. Physical distancing of at least one (1) meter, or two (2) meters when possible, shall be observed at all times. This must be practiced in combination with the wearing of masks and face shields.

d. Frequent Disinfection

i. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water or the application of alcohol-based disinfectants shall be mandatory in all workplaces and is encouraged to be practiced at home.

2. The following disinfecting/washing resources, supplies/materials should be made available to employees and clients/visitors:

a. hand washing stations
b. soap and sanitizers
c. hand drying equipment or supplies (e.g. single use paper towel).

The foregoing supplies/materials should be placed in the following strategic locations in the workplace:

i. Corridors or hallways
ii. Conference areas
iii. Elevators
iv. Stairways
v. Points of entry
vi. Locker rooms
vii. Common areas (e.g. lounge, pantry, etc.)
viii. Bathroom
ix. Canteen
x. Personal workspace
xi. Company vehicles and shuttle services

3. Display of signages/visual cues and reminders to practice proper hand-washing and other hygiene behaviors among employees is mandatory. These include:

a. Hand washing with soap and water, or use of hand disinfectants with alcohol-based sanitizers specifically, but not limited to, the following instances:

i. Before and after handling food or eating;
ii. After using the bathroom;
iii. Before and after taking off their face mask and/or face shield;
iv. After touching frequently-touched surfaces and objects (e.g. stair railings, elevator controls, door knobs); and
v. Before and after touching their face.

b. Advising employees to conduct surface disinfection in their work stations before the start of the shift, intermittently during shift and at the end of the shift.

c. Discouraging sharing of personal items between employees to prevent possible transmission.

4. Employers classified as large and medium sized private establishments (i.e. those with total assets above P15 million) are enjoined to provide shuttle services to 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. Employees inside the vehicles should be required to avoid talking with each other, taking phone calls, eating and removing their masks and shields. Signages of “No Talking,” “No Eating,” and “No Taking Phone Calls” should likewise be displayed or posted on the conspicuous areas in the vehicle.

All vehicle types, as long as not expressly prohibited by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) through an issuance, may be used for shuttle services.

5. Adequate ventilation should be strictly enforced in the following:

a. Inside the workplace – Natural air flow exchange (opening windows, opening doors, turning off air-conditioning units to reduce air recirculation) is highly encouraged. If possible, the installation of exhaust fans, installation of air filtration devices with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters or the recalibration of building heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems should be explored.

b. Inside the shuttle service – The opening of windows, with at least three (3) inches of opening, while in transit should be practiced whenever possible. The observance of physical distancing of at least one (1) meter and wearing of face masks and face shields shall be followed. Proper disinfection before and after each use of the vehicle is likewise mandatory.

6. Mandatory advocacy awareness raising programs

a. In order to enforce these guidelines, the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Committee shall facilitate webinars, virtual lectures and training on COVID-19, its prevention and control, including best practices to be attended by all employees and management.

b. Topics should include:

i. Recommended best practices on:
a) Wearing of masks and face shield and reducing frequent manipulation;
b) Physical distancing;
c) Frequent and proper hand-washing;
d) Frequent Disinfection; and
e) Other preventive strategies in reducing the spread of COVID-19. ii. Frequent updates on relevant information, as it becomes available, from the DOH, WHO and other reliable sources, including COVID-19 test protocols

7. Designated smoking areas in the workplaces shall be provided with individual “booths,” subject to the applicable requirements and standards under Republic Act No. 9211 and Executive Order No. 26, S. 2017. Employers shall require employees to strictly observe physical distancing measures and other applicable health protocols (i.e. no talking inside designated smoking areas).

C. Reduce Contact

1. Most-at-risk population (MARP) for COVID-19 in the workplace (e.g. senior citizens, pregnant women, individuals with underlying health conditions) and those below 21 years old, shall continue to observe work-from-home arrangements. When needed to occasionally report to work, they may be allowed to, provided a certificate of fit to work is secured from the OSH Personnel 2 and must stay in the workplace only for a specified number of hours. They shall limit physical contact inside the premises.

2. Restriction of mass gatherings:

a. Depending on the risk classification of the workplace locality, as defined by Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF) risk severity grading, Employers shall follow the restriction on mass gatherings, (i.e. only 10 percent of seating capacity for meeting rooms in high/moderate-risk areas (e.g. confined spaces) and a maximum of 50 percent seating capacity for low-risk areas (e.g. open areas)).

b. Videoconferencing shall always be used for meetings needing large attendance of employees and/or for meetings lasting longer than 15 minutes.

c. The safety officer, which refers to any employee or officer of the company trained by the DOLE and tasked by the employer to implement an occupational safety and health program, and ensure that it is in accordance with the provisions of OSH standards, 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 (e.g. canteens, locker rooms, changing rooms, lounges, rest rooms or comfort rooms). The safety officer shall ensure that minimum public health standards are followed at all times.

3. Employers shall adopt staggered meal schedules to further restrict contact among their employees. Eating alone in the workstation is highly encouraged.

Dining in canteens may be allowed provided that employees shall strictly comply with the physical distancing of at least one (1) meter and shall be prohibited from talking with each other. Employers are required to provide signages, physical barriers, and such other means to ensure compliance with these protocols.

To ensure compliance with the physical distancing requirements, employers may set up makeshift dining areas to complement canteens in the workplace.

a. Masks should be immediately worn after eating.
b. Use of communal items such as, but not limited to, dipping sauces and condiments, utensil dispensers, and straw dispensers shall be prohibited.
c. Serving of buffet meals and other similar set-ups shall be prohibited.

4. Employers shall, as much as practicable, minimize the duration of customer transactions to less than 15 minutes.

D. Reduce duration of infection

1. Detection

All employees, upon entering the building premises/workplaces, shall be required to accomplish the Health Declaration Form (Annex A-1), or any digital iteration thereof. The security staff or other responsible personnel shall immediately screen the accomplished form and perform a temperature check (ANNEX B).

a. If “Yes” to any item is answered or if with a temperature greater than 37.5 degrees Celsius, the employee shall be denied entry and referred to the workplace isolation area for further evaluation by the Safety Officer.
b. If “No” to all items are answered and temperature is less than 37.5 degrees Celsius, the employee shall be permitted entry.
c. The security staff or other responsible personnel on duty shall immediately give the accomplished health declaration form to the company Human Resources (HR) for appropriate action and storage.
d. Should an online health declaration form be used, the form should be electronically submitted to HR.
e. The Health Declaration Form shall be handled and processed in accordance with the Data Privacy Act and related issuances to ensure that:

i. Data collected should only include such necessary data proportional to the purpose of contract tracing;
ii. The processing of personal data shall be transparent and that the data subjects shall be apprised of the reasons for such collection;
iii. Reasonable and appropriate security measures and safeguards shall be implemented to protect the personal data collected;
iv. The personal data collected shall be considered highly confidential; and
v. The personal data shall be stored only for a limited period and shall be disposed of properly after thirty (30) days from date of accomplishment.

2. Employers shall direct symptomatic individuals through appropriate health system entry points such as the primary care facility (e.g. Barangay Health Center, Infirmaries, Private Clinics/Hospitals) or telehealth consultation. Referral networks shall be established.

3. Employers may contact the DOH through its hotline 1555 for guidance on the handling and referring symptomatic employees.

III. MANAGEMENT OF ASYMPTOMATIC AND SYMPTOMATIC EMPLOYEES IN THE WORKPLACE

A. Remote Management of Cases and Close Contacts

1. Employers shall ensure that the Employees, regardless of work arrangements, have access to telemedicine services, either through health maintenance organization (HMO), employer-initiated telemedicine services, or Barangay Health Center.

2. Large and medium private establishments are strongly encouraged to provide their own telemedicine services, in the absence of an HMO.

B. Isolation and Referral

1. Large and medium private establishments (i.e. with total assets of above P15 million) and establishments with multiple tenants are mandated to designate an isolation area of one room for every 200 employees, which shall be other than the company clinic, and must be situated near the entrance/s or in a nearby facility, for employees needing further assessment due to elevated temperature, presence of flu-like symptoms, any yes answer to the Health Declaration, or exposure history to a COVID-19 case or probable case thereof.

2. The designated isolation area shall have adequate ventilation and make available personal protective equipment (PPEs) for the health personnel and symptomatic patients (e.g. face shields and medical-grade face masks). The isolation area shall be provided with chairs and must have 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.

3. 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, for immediate referral of employees who fulfill the criteria for isolation in III.A.1.

4. All individuals shall keep their face masks and face shields during isolation at all times.

5. Isolation area personnel shall always wear the recommended PPEs prior to attending to the symptomatic employee, as prescribed in the DOH Department Memorandum No. 2020-0197, including:

a. Disposable gown
b. Face shield
c. Medical grade mask
d. Gloves, all used PPEs shall be properly disposed after every use.

6. Company protocols for transporting the symptomatic employee/s to the nearest health facility, such as ambulance conduction and if necessary, for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing shall be put in place (refer to ANNEX C for guidance for conduction of individuals).

7. Malls and buildings shall have at least one (1) isolation area near the entrances.

C. Contact Tracing

1. Employers shall ensure strict compliance with the protocols established by the DOH and local government units (LGUs) for contact tracing of employees in close contact with a COVID19 case, as specified in DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0189 entitled, “Updated Guidelines on Contact Tracing of Close Contacts of Confirmed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Cases”

2. Close contacts shall be defined as employees with exposures two (2) days before or within 14 days from onset of symptoms of a suspect, confirmed or probable case. Exposure shall be any of the following:

a. Face-to-face contact with a confirmed case within one (1) meter and for more than 15 minutes, with or without a mask;
b. Direct physical contact with a confirmed case; or
c. Direct care for a patient with probable or confirmed COVID-l9 disease without using PPEs.

3. Contact Tracing among the Workforce

a. Employers shall conduct contact tracing within their workplace to identify close contacts. Workplace CCTV may be used to determine close contacts.
b. Employers shall ensure that close contacts of employees whose RT-PCR test confirmed positive undergo a 14-day quarantine period.
c. During the 14-day quarantine, close contacts shall be required to regularly report to their employer any development, including new symptoms. Symptomatic employees should update their employer regarding their COVID19 test results from a nationally accredited testing facility.
d. Close contacts who remain asymptomatic for 14 days may return to work without need for a test.
e. Employers shall make available work-from-home (WFH) arrangements for the close contacts when feasible.

4. Contact Tracing of Customers and Visitors

a. Customers, including visitors, entering private establishments/business premises shall be required to completely accomplish the Contact Tracing Form (Annex A-2)
b. Contact tracing forms shall be surrendered daily to the HR officer for future reference and safekeeping.
c. Employers shall explore the use of technology, such as by using contactless forms.
d. Contactless forms shall be handled with the highest degree of confidentiality and securely disposed of after thirty (30) days.

5. Referral of symptomatic individuals shall be coordinated to the nearest health care facility as provided under the latest DOH interim guidelines (e.g. DOH Department Memorandum 2020-00334).

D. COVID-19 Testing

1. Employers are encouraged to collaborate with the national and/or local government testing efforts like drive-thru or walk-thru testing facilities.

2. Following the expanded testing strategy in DOH DM 2020-0258 and DOH DM 2020-0258-A, the following priority workers shall undergo RT-PCR test:

a. All employees in the hospitality and tourism sectors in El Nido, Boracay, Coron, Panglao, Siargao and other tourist zones, as identified and declared by the Department of Tourism (DOT) once every four (4) weeks.
b. All employees of manufacturing companies and public service providers in economic zones located within Special Concern Areas once every quarter.
c. Frontline and Economic Priority Workers, defined as those who (1) work in high priority sectors, both public and private; (2) have high interaction with and exposure to the public; and (3) live or work in Special Concern Areas, once every quarter. These workers include:

i. Transport and Logistics
a) Drivers of taxis, ride hailing services (two and four wheels), buses
b) Public transport vehicles
c) Conductors
d) Pilots, flight attendants, flight engineers
e) Rail operators, mechanics, servicemen
f) Delivery staff
g) Water transport workers (ferries, inter island shipping, ports)

ii. Food Retail
a) Waiters, waitresses, bar attendants, baristas
b) Chefs and cooks
c) Restaurant managers and supervisors

iii. Education (once face to face classes resume )
a) Teachers at all levels of education
b) Other school frontliners such as guidance counselors, librarians, cashiers

iv. Financial Services
a) Bank tellers

v. Non-Food Retail
a) Cashiers
b) Stock clerks
c) Retail salespersons

vi. Services
a) Hairdressers, barbers, manicurist, pedicurist, massage therapists
b) Embalmers, morticians, undertakers, funeral directors
c) Parking lot attendants
d) Security guards
e) Messengers
f) Ushers, lobby attendants, receptionist
g) Clergy

vii. Market Vendors

viii. Construction
a) Carpenters
b) Stonemasons
c) Electricians
d) Painters
e) Construction workers, including foremen, supervisors
f) Civil engineers, structural engineers, construction managers
g) Crane and tower operators
h) Elevator installers and repairers

ix. Water Supply, Sewerage, Waste Management
a) Plumbers
b) Recycling and reclamation workers/garbage collectors
c) Water/wastewater engineers
d) Janitors and cleaners

x. Public Sector
a) Judges
b) Courtroom clerks, staff and security
c) All national and local government employees rendering frontline services in Special Concern Areas

xi. Mass Media
a) Field reporters, photographers, and camera crew

d. Employers are highly encouraged to regularly send their employees for testing once every quarter, at no cost to the employees.

3. Testing of Symptomatic & Close Contacts

a. All employees experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and those who are close contacts must undergo RT-PCR testing. Employers shall inform the LGU/s having jurisdiction over the workplace and the respective residence/s of the symptomatic employees and close contacts before testing for monitoring purposes.

b. Symptomatic employees with travel/exposure to COVID-19 shall undergo fourteen (14) days quarantine. Upon its completion and prior to resumption of work, the employee shall present a Certificate of Quarantine Completion from the step-down care facility or local health office, per Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Disease (PSMID) Guidelines on Return-to-Work (Annex E).

A step-down care facility refers to a DOH or LGU identified facility, such as Temporary Treatment Mega Facility (TTMF), for recovering COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized, but have not yet been certified as COVIDfree and transferred to the TTMF.

4. Testing of Asymptomatic Employees Returning to Work

a. RT-PCR or antibody-based tests are not recommended nor required for asymptomatic employees returning to work.

b. Employees physically reporting to work shall be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, colds and other respiratory symptoms, and/or determination of travel or exposure to COVID-19 cases within the last 14 days. Asymptomatic employees prior to physically returning to work may be cleared by the local health officer or OSH physician.

IV. OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH COMMITTEES (OSH COMMITTEES)

A. Employers shall establish OSH Committees in accordance with Republic Act No. 11058, its IRR, and DOLE Department Order No. 198, Series of 2018 which took effect on Jan. 25, 2019.

B. The OSH Committee and/or safety officer of the workplace shall oversee enforcement and monitoring of the minimum public health standards for COVID-19 prevention in the workplace and this JMC.

C. Monitoring by the OSH Committees shall include evaluation and analysis of the company’s implementation of the minimum health standards and protocols to immediately address the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, if any, and recommend and implement appropriate preventive measures. Health surveillance may be conducted to determine the cause/s of the spread/transmission of the virus in the workplace.

D. For 2 or more private establishments housed under the same building, a joint OSH Committee shall also be established in accordance with DOLE Department Order No. 198, Series of 2018. They may share resources for a successful implementation of a comprehensive OSH Program, including a COVID-19 Prevention and Control Program.

V. NOTIFICATION AND REPORTING

A. Reporting of COVID-19 test results to the DOH shall be done in accordance with DOH Administrative Order No. 2020-0013, entitled “Revised Guidelines for the Inclusion of COVID-19 in the List of Notifiable Diseases for Mandatory Reporting to the Department of Health.”

B. 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 (BHERT) of their place of residence, in accordance with DOH DM No. 2020-0189.

C. The data privacy provisions under the Data Privacy Act and DM 2020-0189 shall be strictly complied with to ensure that the data privacy rights of patients/subjects are respected and protected.

D. The LGU, through their City Epidemiology Surveillance Unit (CESU), Municipal Epidemiology Surveillance Unit (MESU) or Provincial Epidemiology Surveillance Unit (PESU), shall submit reports to the Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit (RESU) using the Event-Based Surveillance System of the Epidemiology Bureau of DOH. (Refer to ANNEX D for the Directory of Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Units)

E. Reporting to the DOLE shall be made in accordance with Section X of the DTI-DOLE Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19 using the Work Accident/Illness Report (WAIR) COVID-19 form (ANNEX F).

VI. DISINFECTION AND CLOSURE OF BUILDINGS/ WORKPLACES

A. If one confirmed case of COVID-19 is detected in the workplace, the facility shall be disinfected with an appropriate disinfectant solution (0.5 percent bleach solution). The conduct of a comprehensive disinfection by specialists is recommended. The building must be locked down for 24 hours prior to disinfection to lessen transmission to sanitation personnel. During the disinfection process, all doors and windows should be opened to maximize ventilation. The building may only be opened 24 hours after the disinfection process.

B. Case clustering shall be defined as two or more confirmed cases from the same area/ facility whether in the same/ different office spaces.

C. Employers are encouraged to develop their own company policies on the temporary closure of the workplace, disinfection, and more extensive contact tracing, in the event of case clustering to ensure continuity of operations.

D. Employers shall ensure that the temporary closure of their establishments for disinfection purposes be done in accordance with the National Task Force Against COVID-19 Memorandum Circular No. 2 dated June 15, 2020 on the Operational Guidelines on the Application of Zoning Containment Strategy in the Localization of the National Action Plan against COVID-19 Response.

E. Individual businesses and offices, regardless of the community quarantine status in their respective areas, must abide by the directives/advice of their LGU/CESU/RESU on building closure due to case clustering.

VII. LEAVE OF ABSENCES AND ENTITLEMENTS

A. Use of leaves of absence and entitlements shall be governed by the pertinent rules and regulations promulgated by the DOLE.

B. Hospitalization benefits of PhilHealth members shall be based on PhilHealth rules and regulations.

C. Social Security Benefits shall be according to the policies and regulations of the Social Security System.

D. Employee’s Compensation Benefits shall be according to Presidential Decree No. 626 entitled Employee’s Compensation and State Insurance Fund and its implementing rules and regulations.

E. 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.

VIII. COMPLIANCE MONITORING AND ENFORCEMENT

The DOLE, DTI and concerned LGU’s Health and Sanitation Office shall strictly monitor compliance with this JMC through inspection and post-audit mechanisms. In case of findings of non-compliance with this JMC, the private establishment shall be temporarily closed until full compliance with the prescribed minimum health protocols.

IX. SEPARABILITY

If any provision of this JMC is declared unconstitutional or void by any court of competent jurisdiction, or the applicability thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, the constitutionality and validity of the remainder of this JMC shall not be affected thereby, and to this end the sections and provisions hereof are declared to be severable.

X. REPEALING CLAUSE

All other DTI and/or DOLE circulars, rules or regulations inconsistent with this JMC are hereby repealed or modified accordingly.

XI. EFFECTIVITY 

This JMC shall take effect immediately upon its publication and filing with the University of the Philippines Law Center.

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