The Philippines recently issued a number of guidance notes on COVID-19 vaccinations that are relevant for employers. The Republic Act No. 11525, also known as the "COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021" (COVID-19 Act) was signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on 26 February 2021. On 26 March 2021, the Department of Health (DOH) issued the implementing rules and regulation for the COVID-19 Act (IRR). The Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) also issued an Advisory No. 03, Series of 2021, the "Guidelines on the Administration of COVID-19 Vaccines in the Workplaces" (DOLE Advisory) on 12 March 2021.
The COVID-19 Act and the IRR
The COVID-19 Act provides that the DOH will issue vaccine cards to all persons vaccinated. This is to ensure completion of the required doses by documenting details of their vaccination. Employers should note that the vaccine cards must not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for employment purposes. The vaccine card will contain:
- basic personal information such as full name, address and birth date;
- manufacturer, brand name and batch number or other identifier of the COVID-19 vaccine;
- date of vaccination;
- name of the hospital, health centre, or health facility where the vaccine was received;
- name, signature and licence number of the licensed physician, nurse or other health worker administering the vaccine;
- date of the last RT-PCR testing and the name of the laboratory that conducted the last RT- PCR testing, if applicable;
- emergency contact details; and
- such other information which may be determined as necessary by the Secretary of Health or the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in line with the declared policy of the COVID-19 Act.
The COVID-19 Act expressly provides that individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 are not to be considered immune from COVID-19, unless otherwise declared by the DOH.
The COVID-19 Act additionally confers immunity from liability on public officials and employees, contractors, manufacturers, volunteers and representatives of private entities who are authorised to carry out the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme (as defined in the COVID-19 Act and the IRR), for claims related to the administration or use of vaccine under the programme, except for claims arising from wilful misconduct and gross negligence.
An indemnity fund of PHP 500,000,000 (~USD10,340,000) will also be set up to provide compensation for serious adverse events following vaccination.
The DOLE Advisory provides guidance on the implementation of vaccination policies in the workplace and applies to "all establishments and employers in the private sector that administer COVID-19 vaccines in the workplaces".
The DOLE Advisory states that employers:
- must endeavour to encourage employees to get vaccinated. However, any employee who refuses or fails to be vaccinated must not be discriminated against in terms of tenure, promotion, training, pay and other benefits, or terminated from employment. No vaccine, no work policy is not permitted;
- must adopt and implement an appropriate vaccination policy in the workplace if they decide to administer COVID-19 vaccines to its employees;
- may procure COVID-19 vaccines, supplies and other services (subject to regulations on private procurement of COVID-19 vaccines); and
- must not charge employees (directly or indirectly) for the cost of vaccination.
The COVID-19 Act and the DOLE Advisory provide some clarity on employer obligations. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding employee vaccinations.
For instance, while there is an express prohibition on using the vaccination card as a mandatory requirement for "employment purposes", the limits of this prohibition remain unclear whether it is limited to requiring the vaccine cards as a condition for an offer of employment or whether employers are prohibited from requesting information on the employee's vaccination status altogether.
Additionally, while employers can encourage employees to get vaccinated, imposing sanctions such as withdrawing training or benefits for employees who refuse to be vaccinated is prohibited. However, the line between encouragement and undue pressure can be murky. Employers should take great care to ensure that they are not seen as forcing employees to vaccinate or discriminating against employees who are not vaccinated.