COVID-19 and the Sports Workforce: Employees’ right to pay, paid sick leaves, work-from-home, and non-termination

by: Jill Gandingco

As of writing, the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a global pandemic with over 100 countries affected by it. Now, the sporting industry along with the entire world is dealing with the palpable effects of COVID-19. 

There’s been a lot of discussion on COVID-19’s impact on sporting events, but not enough about the economic and societal issues intertwined with it, like labor and employment. 

Let’s talk about it!

Social media went into a frenzy when it was reported that owners and employees of sports teams tested positive for COVID-19, including NBA All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, and Daniele Rugani of Juventus F.C.. 

Locally, there are no reported victims from the sports industry (and we hope to keep it that way).

When sporting events got suspended or cancelled due to COVID-19 (which we talked about recently here), that’s when we all seemed to realize how massive it all is. 

The worst part isn’t the loss of entertainment or spectacle, profits, games, or playing time—in reality, it’s the loss of income and livelihood of the employees. 

And don’t just think of the athletes or coaches— think of everyone involved in the business: parking garage attendants, security officers, arena workers, janitors, ushers, lighting and production technicians, commentators, cashiers, cooks, concession stand workers, and entertainers during timeouts or halftime… They all matter.

What happens when a sports employee can’t make it to work because he or she is either affected by the community quarantine or undergoing self-quarantine or God forbid, stricken by COVID-19? 

The general principle of “no work/play, no pay” will apply. Of course, how this principle applies will vary per situation. You’ll have to look at the arrangement or contract with the employer.  An employee paid on a per game basis might not be paid if a game is cancelled. But, if he or she is paid on a monthly basis, he might still be entitled to salary. 

You will also have to consider an employee’s paid sick leaves. An employee forced to stay home may be able to tap into his or her reserve of paid sick leaves and still be entitled to his or wages. The problem is if this reserve has been depleted—which will most likely happen given the 14-day period recommended for quarantine. In that case, his or her time at home will not be compensated by the employer. This isn’t the most ideal situation, but it’s a chance for employers to go the route of Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. With his example of financial support, players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Love, and Zion Williamson have pledged to shoulder employees’ wages even if they don’t have to.

A lot of talk has been going around regarding work-from-home arrangements. If this applies to a sports employee, then he or she should still be paid. He or she is still working from home. The Telecommuting Act (or the law on work-from-home arrangements) mandates fair treatment of employees, including rate of pay. Just because someone works from home does not mean their rate of pay is decreased. 

What happens if an employee is infected with COVID-19? Can an employer terminate the employment contract?

The short answer is no, an employee infected with COVID-19 cannot be terminated from employment. Article 284 of the Labor Code of the Philippines and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) state that an employee’s disease is a ground for termination of employment. 

For termination to be valid, the disease must be:

  1. Of such nature that an employee’s continued employment is considered prohibited by law; or
  2. Prejudicial to himself or to the other employees; and
  3. That it cannot be cured within a period of six (6) months even with proper medical attention; and
  4. That it is certified serious and incurable within said period by a competent public health authority (meaning, a certification made by a company doctor or physician cannot be the basis of termination).

COVID-19 is a serious disease that is prejudicial not just to the employee, but to other employees too. But, employees cannot be terminated because of COVID-19 since it doesn’t last for six (6) months even with proper medical attention.

It is also necessary that the serious nature of the disease be certified by a competent public health authority. Non-compliance with the requirements of the Labor Code and its IRR will make the termination illegal.

Everyone has a social responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is why “social distancing” or the prevention of mass gatherings is encouraged. Some people may be healthy, strong, and able-bodied, but the person beside us may not be. If we’re careless the way Rudy Gobert was, we could cost another person their income, livelihood and life. In these trying times, may employers respond with compassion and understanding, before even considering terminating an employee due to COVID-19.

On the bright side, the good thing about people’s reactions (or overreactions) on social media is that it’s somehow pushing people in power to take action. Maybe the world is late on reacting to COVID-19, but we can still turn this all around. Slowly, the narrative is shifting from “play 82 games this season” to “take care of employees”. And that’s beautiful. 

Now that we’re all on the same team, we’re going to win against COVID-19. Claiming it!


Jill doesn’t know what to do without NBA and Formula 1, but she’ll do her part in social distancing, limiting human interaction, and sanitizing spaces. 

 

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