Can an employer require compulsory COVID-19 vaccination? If yes, are there any exceptions or special circumstances that an employer must consider?
No, an employer may not require compulsory COVID-19 vaccination for its employees. The Philippine Government has launched an information drive on COVID-19 vaccination, highly encouraging the public to have themselves vaccinated, but making it clear that vaccination is not mandatory.
Can employees refuse to be vaccinated? How does an employer need to balance its obligation to provide a safe work environment with an employee’s rights?
Yes, employees may refuse to be vaccinated. Employers may exert efforts to educate their employees about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, and consider subsidizing the cost of the vaccine to incentivize vaccination, but it may not require compulsory vaccination. Employers, however, are still required to provide a safe work environment by implementing strict COVID-19 prevention measures in the workplace, including practicing social distancing within the workplace, temperature checks, compulsory use of face masks, frequent sanitization, and adopting flexible work arrangements to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
In the event of a refusal, can an employee be dismissed for refusal to comply with the employer’s vaccination policy? Will the employee’s refusal constitute just cause for termination?
No, an employee may not be dismissed just for refusing to comply with the employer’s vaccination policy. Philippine labor laws protect the employees’ right to security of tenure, which means that they must not be dismissed except where the employer has a “just cause” (i.e., causes due to the employee’s fault, like serious misconduct, willful disobedience, and fraud) or “authorized cause” (i.e., causes based on business contingencies, like installation of labor-saving devices, redundancy, and retrenchment). While willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer in connection with his work is a just cause for the termination of employment, the disobedience on the part of the employee must be willful or intentional, characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude. If the employee’s reasons for refusing to be vaccinated (e.g., side effects and risks associated with the vaccine, pre-existing health condition, etc.) are reasonable, then the refusal may not constitute willful disobedience.
Ronald Mark C. Lleno, SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan