In the Philippines, employees are subject to normal working hours of not exceeding 8 hours a day, for 6 days per week. It seems that our laws made it this way to provide employees ample time for rest and recreation after a hard day’s work.
However, with the ever-changing dynamics in the workplace and the growing trend towards aspiring for a more significant work-life balance, it appears that the typical 8 hours of work in the office does not anymore fit in with the Filipinos’ current way of living. Indeed, a growing number of employees seem dissatisfied with the working arrangements which are currently in place. This is evident from the fact that employees nowadays resign from work within a year or two, with an over-all separation rate of 7.59% per the Philippine Statistics Authority. Worsening traffic conditions have also made the situation difficult as employees still spend hours and hours on the road to and from their workplace. Undeniably, these challenges have taken their toll on how employees deal with working in the office.
For its part, the Philippine government continues to craft solutions to make the employees’ working conditions adapt to these challenges. To this end, our lawmakers are presently considering several laws aimed to further improve the working conditions of employees. Acknowledging that technology and innovation have opened new and alternative avenues for employees to perform their work, the Senate and the House of Representatives have recently approved a consolidated version of the much-anticipated Telecommuting Act, now just awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte before it finally becomes a law.
The Telecommuting Act promotes “telecommuting,” or the partial or total substitution of computers and/or telecommunication technologies for the employees’ commute to work. Under this flexible work arrangement, employees would be allowed to perform their work in the comfort of their own homes or in any other place outside the office, as long as they have computers and/or telecommunication technologies with internet connection.
Pursuant to the Telecommuting Act, instituting a telecommuting arrangement is an employer’s prerogative based on a mutual agreement that the employer has with its telecommuting employees. In other words, while the choice to establish a telecommuting arrangement is unilateral as it appears vested solely on the employer, the terms and conditions of such an arrangement are bilateral as both the employer and the telecommuting employees agree upon the same. However, the terms and conditions should not be less than the minimum labor standards set by labor laws, and these include compensable work hours, premium payment, and entitlement to leave benefits.
More importantly, the Telecommuting Act ensures that telecommuting employees are to be given the same treatment which are comparable with the employees working in the employer’s premises. Likewise, the Telecommuting Act requires employers to take measures to prevent telecommuting employees from being isolated from the working community in its premises. Thus, to ensure that telecommuting employees are sufficiently apprised of the terms and conditions of their employment, employers are also required to provide them with “relevant written information,” as provided under the Telecommuting Act. These reasonable safeguards are set in place to strike a balance between the interests of the employers and telecommuting employees.
With a set legal framework for telecommuting arrangements in the workplace, the general public is optimistic that the abovementioned challenges in the workplace would be addressed. On the one hand, it is hoped that, by allowing employees to work in an alternative workplace, this would enable them to have more flexibility in performing work — which would result in an improvement of their overall productivity and performance. With this, employees would be able to achieve the work-life balance that they constantly yearn for. Likewise, it is expected that telecommuting arrangements would lessen the congestion in major cities and ease the worsening traffic in our country, for employees would no longer need to travel just to perform work.
Proposing another alternative work arrangement would certainly not serve as the ultimate solution for the ever-changing working landscape. Indeed, the legislature will still have to come up with further measures to address this problem. However, there is no question that the alternative work arrangement under the Telecommuting Act is a great step forward in addressing the growing concerns relating to the workplace.
Angelo J. Logronio is an Associate at the Labor and Employment Department of ACCRALAW.