The House of Representatives has introduced House Bill 6253 known as the Mental Health Leave Act. This bill proposes to grant employees in the private sector mental health wellness leave of at least five days with full pay per year. The proposed leave cannot be monetized and cannot be carried over to the next year if unused by the employee.
This is without prejudice and is in addition to existing minimum statutory leaves already provided for by law such as Service Incentive Leave, Vacation Leave, Sick Leave, Paternity or Maternity Leave, Solo Parent Leave, etc.
More than introducing additional leave benefits for employees in the private sector, the bill obligates employers to offer and implement programs to raise awareness on mental health and to ensure their employees’ mental well-being. The bill proposes to penalize employers who are found violating the provisions of this proposal by a fine of up to P100,000.00 and/or imprisonment for 30 days to six months.
This bill also proposes to include mental health awareness as part of the curriculum and require schools to have at least one in-house certified guidance counselor trained as an authorized mental health practitioner.
While the bill has recently gained traction, this is not the first time that a Mental Health Bill was proposed. House Bill 4620 which proposed similar benefits as House Bill 6253 was previously introduced but unfortunately did not prosper. One cannot help but think that perhaps reaction to the pandemic has caused the deterioration of the mental health of many Filipinos.
Government measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid have encouraged the populace to remain in their respective homes. Government has issued guidelines that exploit technology to discourage Filipinos from leaving their abodes. The Judiciary has its online/videoconference hearings.
The Executive has online applications for requests for services. The Legislature has online sessions. All these measures, while likely effective in preventing the further spread of Covid, also diminished the social exposure of Filipinos. Human interaction has been replaced by the impersonal online transaction leaving the sociable Filipino less and less connected to humanity. It doesn’t take much to imagine how this state of affairs could have prejudiced the mental health of many of our countrymen.
As government slowly eases up on restrictions in the hope of reviving the Philippine economy, friends and co-employees are given the chance to once again reconnect.
It is only now that people are learning that home isolation has caused friends to succumb to deteriorating mental health in the interim, e.g,, depression.
The introduction of this Bill is a good development in Philippine law especially since Filipino culture tends to dismiss any discussion of Mental Health. Recognizing the importance of Mental Health in the workplace with the introduction of House Bill 6253 is a step towards progress and this author earnestly hopes for its passage.