House bill allowing telecommuting for PH workers nears passage

The House of Representatives has approved on second reading House Bill 7402, which seeks to give employees in the private sector the option to work outside the office through telecommuting.

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The proposed “Telecommuting Act” defines “telecommuting” as a flexible work arrangement that allows an employee in the private sector to work from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies.

Principally authored by Camarines Sur representative Luis Raymund Villafuerte, the bill provides that an employer in the private sector may offer a telecommuting program to its employees on a voluntary basis, and upon such terms and conditions as they may mutually agree upon.

The terms and conditions should not be less than the minimum labor standards set by law, and should include compensable work hours, minimum number of work hours, overtime, rest days, and entitlement to leave benefits.

In all cases, the employer should provide the telecommuting employee with relevant written information in order to adequately apprise the individual of the terms and conditions of the telecommuting program, and the responsibilities of the employee.

The bill mandates the employer to ensure the telecommuting employees are given the same treatment as that of comparable employees working at the employer’s premises. Telecommuting employees should receive a rate of pay, including overtime and night shift differential, and other similar monetary benefits not lower than those provided in applicable laws, and collective bargaining agreements.

They should also have the right to rest periods by regulating the operation of their Internet servers after normal working hours as well as during weekends, regular holidays and special non-working days. Moreover, the employees should have the same or equivalent workload and performance standards as those comparable workers at the employer’s premises.

Likewise, they should have the same access to training and career development opportunities as those of workers at the employer’s premises, and be subject to the same appraisal policies covering these workers.

Additionally, they should receive appropriate training on the technical equipment at their disposal, and the characteristics and conditions of telecommuting. They should also have the same collective rights as the workers at the employer’s premises, and should not be barred from communicating with workers’ representatives.

Meanwhile, the employer should be responsible for taking the appropriate measures to ensure the protection of data used and processed by the telecommuting employee for professional purposes.

The bill tasks the DOLE to establish and maintain a telecommuting pilot program in select industries which should last for a period of not more than three years.

The agency should be responsible for baselining, scoping and profiling research work prior to implementation, regular quarterly monitoring, and evaluation. At the end of the program, the DOLE should submit a report to Congress on its findings.

Villafuerte said institutionalizing new and alternative modes of working, made possible through the use of modern technology, is very timely in light of the worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila and the increasingly unpredictable weather.

“More and more employers have expanded the traditional mode of on-site work to the adoption of flexible working arrangements such as the compressed workweek and telecommuting, among others,” Villafuerte said.

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