DOLE order to implement a mental health program in the workplace now in effect

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is reminding employers that its new order to implement a mental health policy and program in the workplace is now in force.

Jennifer Obien, senior labor and employment officer of DOLE’s Bureau of Working Conditions, reminded companies at a recent business forum that DOLE’s Department Order (DO) No. 208 series of 2020, which was signed February 11, 2020, has been in effect since March 4.

DO 208-20 provides the guidelines for implementing a mental health policy and program in the workplace. The order was released pursuant to Republic Act (RA) No. 11036, or the Mental Health Act, and RA 11058, or the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Act.

The directive covers employers in the formal sector, including those that deploy overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

It mandates all workplaces and establishments to formulate a mental health workplace program that will “raise awareness, prevent stigma and discrimination, provide support to workers who are at risk and /or with mental health condition and facilitate access to medical health services.”

The mental health program shall be jointly prepared by management and workers’ representatives and be integrated into the company’s occupational safety and health policies and programs, Obien said.

Assistance in formulating and implementing the mental health policy and program may be sought from the labor department, Department of Health, and/or organizations rendering mental health services.

Components of a mental health program shall include advocacy, information, education, training as well as promotion and enhancement of workers’ well-being; non-discriminatory policies and practices; confidentiality of information; disclosure of medical or mental condition; work accommodation and work arrangement; treatment, rehabilitation and referral system; and benefits and compensation, among others.

Under the new order, employers shall:

  1. Develop, implement, monitor and evaluate mental health workplace policies and programs. They must link up or coordinate with mental health service providers for assistance;
  2. Develop and implement programs with reporting mechanisms to address and prevent problems on bullying such as cyberbullying/mobbing, verbal, sexual and physical harassment, all forms of work-related violence, threats, shaming, alienation and other forms of discrimination which may lead to a mental health problem;
  3. Ensure that there are adequate resources to implement and sustain mental health workplace programs;
  4. Ensure that they provide the necessary training to the occupational safety and health personnel and human resources officers who will develop, implement and monitor the mental health policies and programs;
  5. Provide the necessary work accommodation when needed;
  6. Develop mechanisms for referral of workers at risk of developing or with mental health condition for appropriate management; and
  7. Ensure compliance to all related requirements of existing legislations and guidelines.

Among the salient provisions of the new order is the prohibition of discriminatory policies and practices in the workplace in terms of mental health.

“There shall be no discrimination in any form against workers who are at risk of developing or who are found to have mental health condition. Workers shall not be discriminated against from hiring, promotion, and/or other benefits of employment because of their condition provided, however, that such conditions shall not interfere with the employee’s performance of their job or unduly affect his own safety or that of his co-workers, clients and the general public,” the directive states.

Establishments shall submit their respective mental health policy and program to the DOLE regional office having jurisdiction over them, DOLE said.

According to an article by law firm Baker McKenzie on the implications of DO 208-20 for employers: “Labor enforcement officers during a labor audit may construe the absence of a Mental Health Workplace Policy and Program as failure to formulate and implement a comprehensive safety and health program or failure to comply with other occupational safety and health standards. An administrative fine amounting to PhP 40,000 may be imposed against the erring employer.”

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