“Under no circumstances should an employer terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the ground of declining vaccination,” the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has reiterated.
Singapore’s tripartite partners Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), on Friday (July 2), issued an advisory providing guidance to both employers and employees regarding COVID-19 vaccination in employment settings.
The following are the three key things for employers to note:
#1 Employers should not make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory
In the advisory, the tripartite partners said that employers should not make vaccination mandatory for their employees, in line with the national policy. The onus should, instead, be on the employees themselves to get vaccinated.
However, according to MOM, employers should “strongly encourage and facilitate” all their medically eligible employees to get vaccinated.
This could be done in the form of granting paid time-off to employees for COVID-19 vaccination, and facilitating public education programmes on vaccine safety and efficacy for their employees, for instance.
That said, it is crucial that employers take note and exempt employees from vaccination if they belong to groups identified by MOH as not suitable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, or are not scheduled for vaccination yet.
#2 Employers should not penalise employees who decline vaccination
Employers may ask employees for their vaccination status for business purposes such as business continuity planning, but not use it against employees to have their employment terminated on the ground of declining vaccination.
“There is a small and exceptional number of employment settings where some employees may be exposed to a higher risk of COVID-19 infection,” said MOM.
Such settings could be those in the healthcare, service, aviation or maritime industries. Other examples the ministry quoted are those who are in dormitories, or athletes in sports where close physical contact usually occurs.
In such cases, employers can place COVID-19 vaccination as a company policy, or impose vaccination requirement upfront at the point of recruitment or advertisement for new hires into these higher risk employment settings.
A good gauge to see if the employment setting exposes an employee to a higher risk of COVID-19 infection is whether the employee is required to undergo Rostered Routine Testing (RRT), mandated Fast and Easy Testing (FET), or is in regular contact with known COVID-19 cases/persons who are isolated due to risk of COVID-19.
In a similar vein, for employees who abide by the company policy, employers should therefore provide affected employees with additional paid sick leave “beyond contractual or statutory requirement” to support their recovery from any immediate adverse medical complications arising from vaccination.
The ministry reiterated that: “Under no circumstances should an employer terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the ground of declining vaccination.”
#3 Employers could redeploy employees or share COVID-19 related costs with employees if employees decline vaccination
With regard to tackling the issue on employees who decline vaccination, the ministry suggested two key methods that employers can adopt (in consultation with the unions, if applicable):
1. Redeploy such an employee to another job with lower risk of COVID-19 infection that is commensurate with the employee’s experience and skills, as per existing redeployment policies.
MOM explained that if there are no existing redeployment policies within the organisation, the terms and conditions for redeployment should be mutually agreed between employers and employees.
2. Recover COVID-19 related costs (e.g. COVID-19 testing costs or costs of SHN accommodation) incurred by the employer from employees (who declined vaccination) that are over and above the costs incurred for vaccinated employees in similar employment settings.
These costs can be recovered either through salary deductions or by requiring the employee to pay the relevant service provider directly.
Beyond these two methods, another suggestion the ministry put forth is that employers could adopt a differentiated leave policy for vaccinated employees versus employees who decline vaccination. This could come in the form of no-pay leave for the duration of any SHN served, for instance.
MOM reminded the public: “Comprehensive vaccination coverage in our population will ensure that our population is protected from COVID-19.
“This will enable Singapore to reopen further both as a society and economy and expedite our recovery from the pandemic.”