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Adjustment to new work rules

Financial and social issues await employees when they return to work after the enhanced, modified enhanced or general community quarantine is lifted by the government at the end of this month or at a later date.

Employees of businesses with substantial financial reserves and are confident of regaining their profitability when things settle down can reasonably expect their salaries and other benefits to remain intact.

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However, employees of businesses that are not similarly situated have reason to feel worried about their continued employment.

Some of the conditions for the resumption of business in the “new” normal, e.g., social distancing and limited number of customers at any one time, may adversely affect the financial viability of some businesses and therefore force them to downsize or close down.

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The laid-off employees would have to make do with whatever separation pay their employer can give them, assuming the latter still has the means to do so.

For businesses that stand in-between and believe cost-cutting measures would enable them to maintain their operations, their employees may face the prospects of salary reduction, cancellation of some privileges or suspension of monetary benefits provided for in their employment contracts or collective bargaining agreement.

These employees may be asked to make some financial sacrifices until things get better to enable the company to keep its nose above the water. In other words, the price for keeping their jobs would be reducing their paychecks.

On condition these arrangements are done in consultation with and freely agreed to by the employees or their duly authorized representatives, no unfair labor practice can be imputed to the employer. This is consistent with the legal dictum that unless the law expressly prohibits it, rights may be waived as long as the waiver is voluntarily or knowingly made.

Aside from possible financial issues, employees have to brace themselves for radical changes in their work activities and interaction with fellow employees.

If the guidelines issued by the government on work activities are to be strictly followed, employees would be obliged to, for example, wear face masks, maintain certain distances in their work areas, eat by themselves or refrain from holding lengthy meetings.

In effect, they have to avoid contact with each other as much as possible or do so only when necessary in the performance of their work. It would be social distancing in the real sense of the word—away from each other physically.

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Given the gregarious nature of Filipinos, that would be a tall order. It goes against the grain of the Filipino character.

Taking lunch together is the best opportunity for employees to relax, bond with each other and catch up with the latest happenings (read: gossip) in the office.

Socializing with fellow employees during or after office hours is considered an integral part of employment life. Many personal or professional relationships originate from or are built from work.

The sociable nature of Filipinos is evident from the popularity of Facebook accounts, chat groups and other social media platforms. That is also the reason why the Philippines has been described as the “texting capital of the world.”

Going one step further, the social distancing requirement may mean giving up company-sponsored activities, such as provincial resort trips, celebration of business milestones and, most importantly, Christmas parties.

No doubt, a strict enforcement of social distancing and other rules on avoiding COVID-19 infection in the work premises could adversely affect office morale or the employees’ psychological disposition toward their work.

It would be a challenge to employers to think of ways or come up with measures that would keep their employees safe from COVID-19 without unduly impairing their ability to work or socialize with each other in the work premises.

With the coming months expected to be tough for business, the work is cut out for business executives to think out of the box in meeting the challenges of the times. INQ

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