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Compulsory employee vaccination

/ 04:04 AM January 05, 2021

To date, three COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm have been approved for general use by their respective licensing authorities.

Although these vaccines have passed clinical tests, the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not given clearance yet for their importation and use in the country.

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In anticipation of the FDA’s favorable action, some local companies with sufficient financial resources are already making arrangements, on their own, for the procurement of the vaccine for their employees.

These companies prefer to do the buying themselves, rather than through the auspices of the government, so they can directly supervise its delivery, storage and disposition.

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That arrangement is favorable to the foreign pharma companies because they are assured of prompt payment of the vaccine and, most importantly, they would not have to contend with the red tape that often accompanies transactions with the government.

The local companies’ game plan is, as soon as the vaccine becomes available, they will require their staff to be injected with it, free of charge, in accordance with the prescribed protocol.

The cost of importing, storing and administering the vaccine is not going to be cheap. It can run to millions of pesos, depending on the kind of storage facilities to be installed and maintained, and the number of employees to be inoculated.

Although that cost can be claimed as a business expense for tax deduction purposes, it can also be looked at as an investment on the health and well-being of the employees that will, at the end of the day, redound to the benefit of the business.

Looking ahead, some questions may be raised about the extent of an employer’s authority to take that preemptive medical action on its employees.

Can an employer compel its employees to be injected with the vaccine? If an employee refuses because he or she is not convinced of its efficacy or is apprehensive about its side effects, or claims that his or her religious beliefs forbid such procedure, can that employee be subjected to disciplinary action?

The Labor Code requires employers to, among others, observe rules and regulations that will ensure the health and safety of their employees and this includes the installation of safety devices and provisioning of safety equipment when appropriate.

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Failure to comply with those obligations would make the employer liable for civil and penal sanctions.

Requiring employees to be injected with the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for their continued employment falls squarely within the employer’s health and safety obligations.

The vaccine will provide protection not only to the inoculated employee but also to the rest of the staff.

For the employer, that would mean savings on hospitalization expenses if an employee is infected with the virus and avoiding the costs of isolating employees who had been in contact with that employee and disinfecting the work premises.

On the part of the employees, immunity from the virus assures him or her of continued employment and receipt of their salary.

Since compulsory vaccination would be mutually beneficial and advantageous to the employer and employees, the former has the right to impose disciplinary action on recalcitrant employees to enforce compliance with that preventive health measure.

Reminder to employees who may refuse to be vaccinated and, as a result, get infected with the virus: the Labor Code states that “an employer may terminate the services of an employee who has been found to be suffering from any disease and whose continued employment is … prejudicial to his health as well as to the health of his co-employees.”

If an employer avails of that authority, the affected employee would be entitled to separation pay equivalent to at least one month salary or 15 days pay for every year of service, whichever is greater. INQ

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