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Transition to business normalcy

/ 04:02 AM November 16, 2021

Things appear to be looking up in the government’s efforts to reduce the infection rate of COVID-19 in the country.

With the continuing arrival of vaccines from abroad and more Filipinos willing to be vaccinated, there is a strong possibility the alert level on the virus may dip to its lowest by next month.

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Barring any hiccups in the vaccination program, the coming holiday season would be merrier compared to last year in terms of commercial activities. The business pickup could provide some financial relief to Filipinos who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

With 2022 just around the corner, businesses that have deftly steered their way through the medical crisis may have to take a second look at their operations as the economy slowly transitions to normalcy.

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On account of the lockdown measures imposed by the government, many companies had to resort to work-from-home (WFH) arrangements with their staff to keep the business going.

The WFH setup had mixed results. It did not work well for businesses that require personal interaction with their customers or clientele. For others, it produced acceptable results considering the underlying circumstances and gave rise to an appreciable reduction in their operating costs.

With the work premises staffed to the minimum, savings were generated from lower utilities, transportation, representation and other related business expenses. And most importantly, the risk of their employees catching the virus during their commute was substantially lessened.

Keeping the employees safe from infection spared companies from hefty medical expenses, not to mention the costs of having to vacate the work area so it can be properly disinfected had any of the employees caught the virus.

In light of the favorable experience, these businesses would have to decide whether to maintain the WFH system, return to prepandemic work schedules, or do hybrid WFH and physical presence arrangement.

As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? If WFH has proven to be effective under adverse conditions and employee morale remains in good shape, why not keep it?

Another work aspect that may have to be reexamined is the benefits that have been given the employees to help them cope with the demands of their work and the need to avoid infection.

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Thus, for example, some companies provided shuttle service to their employees to and from their residences and place of work to minimize the possibility of picking up the virus in their commute through public transportation.

To encourage employees who report for work from taking their meals outside of the work premises and inadvertently catching the virus, some companies subsidized or provided free meals to their staff.

And for those under WFH arrangements but have spotty internet connection, the cost of higher broadband connection was shouldered by their employer.

When business activities return to normal levels, would these COVID-19-related perks be reduced, if not totally canceled?

While the argument can be raised that those benefits were granted to address an emergency situation and therefore can be terminated if it has abated, it is possible their removal may adversely affect employee morale.

It is not far-fetched that opposition to the removal of those benefits be anchored on a ruling of the Supreme Court that states that when the benefits granted to employees have evolved into company practice and they have gained a vested right over them, the same cannot be unilaterally withdrawn by the employer.

Whether or not the benefits given to employees were meant to be COVID-19-specific and not to be looked at as company practice would depend on, among others, the circumstances under which they were given or any document that states they are provisional in character or only effective for the duration of the health problem.

Hopefully, the transition to normality in the business sector would be free from avoidable work-related problems. INQ

For comments, please send your email to [email protected]

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