Considering the obligation of employers to ensure a safe working environment by taking on reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their employees, and in light of the present ambiguity of our labor laws in relation to vaccination policies for employees, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued Advisory No. 03, Series of 2021, or the Guidelines on the Administration of COVID-19 Vaccines in the Workplaces” (“Guidelines“) on 12 March 2021.
As COVID-19 vaccines become available, the Guidelines specifically deal with the applicable rules governing any vaccination policy, which may be implemented by employers and covered establishments in the workplace.
All establishments and employers in the private sector that administer COVID-19 vaccines in their workplaces are covered by the Guidelines.
Enforcement and compliance
The Guidelines shall take effect immediately.
1. Vaccination in the workplace
The Guidelines provide that covered establishments and employers are allowed to procure COVID-19 vaccines, supplies, and other services in relation thereto. They may also seek the support of the appropriate government agencies in the procurement, storage, transport, deployment, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines. However, no cost of vaccination in the workplace shall be charged against or passed on, directly or indirectly, to the employees.
The vaccination policy, which shall be adopted and implemented by covered establishments and employers, shall be consistent with the guidelines issued by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).
2. Non-discrimination and non-termination of employees
Covered establishments and employers shall encourage their employees to get vaccinated. However, any employee who refuses or fails to be vaccinated shall not be discriminated against in terms of tenure, promotion, training, pay, and other benefits. More importantly, employees who refuse to be vaccinated may not be terminated from their employment. A “no vaccine, no work” policy is not allowed.
The Guidelines do not require employers to administer COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace. They merely regulate what employers can or cannot do in case these employers voluntarily decide to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Based on the Guidelines, employers should be mindful that: (i) employers may procure COVID-19 vaccines, supplies and other services (subject to regulatory considerations on private procurement of COVID-19 vaccines); (ii) if an employer decides to administer COVID-19 vaccines to its employees, the employer should adopt and implement the appropriate vaccination policy in the workplace; (iii) employers may not charge the cost of vaccination to employees; (iv) employees have the right to choose between getting vaccinated and not getting vaccinated; (v) employers may not discriminate against or dismiss employees who choose not to be vaccinated; and (vi) employers may not implement a “no vaccine, no work” policy. Employers should also review their existing policies and protocols to ensure they do not violate the Guidelines.
Given that the opportunity for COVID-19 vaccinations is only just emerging and the government’s response to the COVID-19 situation is fluid, employers should continue to monitor new Philippine guidelines or regulations on this matter.