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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Transition to business normality | Business investigator

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

With the continued arrival of vaccines from overseas and more Filipinos willing to get vaccinated, there is a strong possibility that the virus alert level could drop to a minimum within the next month.

Barring glitches in the vaccination schedule, the upcoming holiday season would be better than last year in terms of business. The resumption of activity could provide financial relief for Filipinos who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

With 2022 just around the corner, companies that have cleverly worked their way through the medical crisis may need to take a second look at their operations as the economy is slowly returning to normal.

Due to government-imposed lockdown measures, many companies have had to resort to work-from-home agreements (WFH) with their staff to run the business.

The WFH setup had mixed results. It hasn’t worked well for businesses that require personal interaction with their customers or clients. For others, it produced acceptable results considering the underlying circumstances and resulted in a significant reduction in their operating costs.

With work spaces kept to a minimum, the savings were generated by fewer utilities, transportation, entertainment and other related business expenses. And most importantly, the risk of their employees contracting the virus on their commute has been substantially reduced.

Keeping employees safe from infection has saved companies huge medical bills, not to mention the costs of having to leave the work area so that it can be properly disinfected if any of the employees contract the virus.

In light of the favorable experience, these companies should decide whether to keep the WFH system, go back to pre-pandemic working hours, or do a hybrid WFH and physical attendance agreement.

As they say, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? If WFH has proven effective under adverse conditions and employee morale remains in good shape, why not keep it up?

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

Thus, for example, some companies have provided a shuttle service to their employees to and from their residences and workplace to minimize the possibility of contracting the virus in their travels through public transport.

To encourage employees who show up for work to eat meals away from work and inadvertently contract the virus, some companies have subsidized or provided free meals to their staff.

And for those under WFH agreements but have a patchy internet connection, the cost of a higher broadband connection was borne by their employer.

When business operations return to normal levels, would these COVID-19 benefits be reduced, if not completely canceled?

While it can be argued that these benefits were granted to deal with an emergency situation and therefore can be resolved if it has subsided, it is possible that their removal could adversely affect employee morale.

It is not hazardous that the opposition to the suppression of these benefits is anchored to a sentence of the Supreme Court according to which when the benefits granted to employees have evolved in company practice and they have acquired a right due over them, the same cannot be unilaterally revoked by the employer.

Whether or not the benefits given to employees were intended to be specific to COVID-19 and not to be regarded as business practice would depend, among other things, on the circumstances in which they were granted or on any document stating that they are temporary or effective only for the duration of the health problem.

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

For comments, send your email to [email protected]

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