WFH-RELATED INJURIES AND DEATHS NOW COMPENSABLE UNDER ECP
Since the Telecommuting Act was signed into law in December 2018, employees from private sectors have enjoyed voluntary work-from-home employment arrangements. Then came the pandemic and the state-wide lockdown. With the physical closure of non-essential establishments, we saw mass retrenchments and layoffs, as employers struggled to find ways to keep their businesses alive.
To ensure business and employment continuity at a time where government calls for lesser face-to-face contact, we have seen employers get creative with their work set-ups and the government recommending the adoption of alternative working arrangements. With most of the population urged to stay home, work-from-home quickly became the norm.
This abrupt shift to remote work presented many issues, among which is the issue on liability for disability or death due to injuries sustained while working from home.
In 2020, the International Labour Organization developed an employer’s guide on working from home to provide practical guidance to companies that have implemented work-from-home arrangements for their employees during the pandemic. Employers were encouraged to consider extending their existing safety and health policies to cover employees in a work-from-home set-up, and for governments to consider as compensable work-related injuries or deaths occurring at home.
Recently, in the Philippines, the Employees Compensation Commission (“ECC”) passed Board Resolution No. 21-03-09 (“Resolution”), declaring the compensability of disability or death due to injuries sustained by employees while working from home, under the Employees Compensation Program (“ECP”). Claims based on this are subject only to the following conditions:
There must be a written directive or order from the employer requiring a work-from-home arrangement or the performance of a specific task within a specified period at the residence or in the dwelling place of the employee; and
The death occurred or the injury was sustained while the employee was discharging his or her duties or assigned tasks within the said specified period.
According to the ECC, the expansion of the scope of the compensation program is “in response to the changing landscape of work and definition of workplace, propelled by the development in telecommunications and innovations in computer technology, and the emergence of COVID-19 as a pandemic.” In approving the Resolution, the ECC also reasoned that employees who perform their duties or tasks while at their homes are not exempt from the possible occurrence of work-connected disabilities or deaths due to injury-related incidents.
Benefits under the ECP include loss of income, medical, death, and funeral benefits. Persons with work-related disabilities may also avail of rehabilitation services under the KaGabay Program, which include free physical, speech, or occupational therapy, assistive devices, and livelihood training and financial assistance.
Note, though, that while only now formalized and declared as a policy by the ECC, compensability of work-related injuries or deaths occurring at home is no novel issue. As the ECC notes, as early as 1993, the Supreme Court, in Perlita Lopez v. Employees’ Compensation Commission et. al., already declared as compensable the death of a public school teacher who died of electrocution at his home during summer vacation while constructing an improvised electric micro-dam pursuant to a memorandum issued to him by the Science Department Head of the school he worked at. In declaring the compensability of his death, the Supreme Court said:
“While the death of Pedro Lopez took place in his house and not in his official work station, which is the school, he was still discharging his function as the one in-charge of the project. He was constrained to finish the project within a specific period of time and he could only do so if he worked overtime in his house. xxx To claim that he should have been in school at the time he died in order to entitle his widow any compensation benefits, is to strain good sense and logic.”
But ECC’s efforts to officially declare this as a policy is a welcome development. And while there are still nuances to the rule and work-injury causal connections to prove, declaring the compensability of injuries or deaths occurring at home as a rule, as opposed to the exception that it once was, already means much.
For indeed, this pandemic has spared no one, though in reality, those with more resources manage the effects of this pandemic better than others. And with our labor force among the most affected, it is but fitting that kinder and more liberal policies are put in place for them.
 See https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2021/5/18/WFH-related-death-injuries-compensable-.html  See Board Resolution No. 21-03-09.  G.R. No. 90267, 21 December 1993.  Ibid; See also Board Resolution No. 21-03-09.
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