Learning & Development Asia 2024
Balancing legal and HR responsibilities: Navigating Singapore’s upcoming FWA requests guidelines

Balancing legal and HR responsibilities: Navigating Singapore’s upcoming FWA requests guidelines

Many leaders tend to be concerned about the need to incorporate a mandated policy, or having to be extremely mindful when crafting the experience for your employees. A session at the Total Rewards Asia Summit 2024 aimed to tackle these, with key takeaways highlighted in a report by Arina Sofiah.

Starting 1 December 2024, employers in Singapore are to abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) Requests. This entails organisations ensuring they have a proper system set up, and will reasonably consider such requests. 

Naturally, HR decision makers and employers may be faced with queries — what are the implications of the guidelines on company culture and values? How do you overcome the existing roadblocks that have hindered progress on FWAs so far?

Addressing these concerns in an HR-meets-legal session at the recent Total Rewards Asia Summit 2024, Singapore, has held a session on Legal clinic: Navigating the guidelines on flexible work arrangement requests that will take effect on 1 December 2024. Blending two perspectives from the legal side and the people side, the conversation was led by:

  • Dawn Wong, Head of People & Experience, APAC, Vayner Media
  • Zhao Yang Ng, Local Principal, Baker McKenzie Singapore

To start off, one speaker shared: “The guidelines come at just about the right time.”

Seeing that everyone has gone through the pandemic, one way or the other, they would have also encountered flexible work arrangements in its varying forms. Coming out of this, some people have embraced the pandemic to be more progressive, while others may be starting to revert to pre-pandemic ways — potentially dependent on the nature of work, and even industry itself.

The upcoming guidelines themselves provide opportunities for employers and employees to have a better conversation, it was affirmed. As another speaker summarised, the idea of implementing the guidelines is to push employers to put in place a process for employees to put in FWA requests. Looking at the bigger picture, it essentially hopes to promote better work-life harmony — especially for those who find a traditional nine-to-five job particularly hard.

The notion of choice is, after all, universal.

"People understand that there is a different way of working right now. And at the same time, people know that life is short; they want to do something that they love."

In that vein, we can always expect various perspectives when it comes to the views of stakeholders, the speakers noted — from the company and from talent. Thus, as HR professionals, facilitating communication is key to bridging the gap.

Spotlighting the legal aspect of this, one speaker highlighted that the guidelines are not the law' and that instead, guidelines issued are generally deemed best practices.

This does not mean that if anyone makes a request, the manager or employer is required to approve it. Instead, what the guidelines oblige the organisation to do is to have a process in place to consider these requests reasonably, and respond to them within two months of the receipt of the request.

Currently, if you reject a request, that is generally the end of the story. However, with the guidelines in place come December, an employee will be able to approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). TAFEP will then look into these cases.

Interestingly, one speaker pointed out another area of concern to note — if you are a leader with a larger regional remit, it is important to remember that these guidelines do not simply exist in a vacuum. Your employees in Malaysia, Indonesia, or across APAC will also wonder about the implications on their own way of work.

In response, it was pointed out, "the idea may not be that far apart." For example, translating the idea into local nuances.

Many leaders tend to be concerned on the need to incorporate a mandated policy, or having to be extremely mindful when crafting the experience for your employees. The answer to this? It's about striking a balance.

"I do think that a mandated policy should exist. But, at the same time, if you don't call it your policy, it can simply be guard rails — a basic understanding that everyone has the common knowledge of how things work, and that they know and understand that boundaries", one speaker stressed. This will help to facilitate communication with managers.

Return to office vs. FWAs, and impact

With the current economic climate, many organisations do consider a return-to-office mandate — perhaps because they are concerned about productivity levels declining, or wanting to see more collaboration in the office.

As one speaker reminded, with the upcoming set of guidelines, you still can have your employees return to working in the office — but you should still have in place a process for those who would like to request FWAs, and consider such requests reasonably. If the request is rejected, those reasons for rejection should also be reasonable.

If an employee raises this rejection to TAFEP, employers would have to ensure that their argument is robust and convincing.

For example, simply citing a “standard mandate to work from office” as grounds for rejection may not be enough; you may have to take it a step further, such as citing the level of collaboration you would want to achieve — though this also varies across industries.

Another reason employers may prefer for employees to return to office is due to concerns on the lack of facetime. Less facetime may make it hard to maintain productivity as well. Admittedly, one speaker said, it would be challenging to manage a team if you are unable to see their faces.

Among examples cited, this can be addressed through various steps — from open-door policies, to even just reminding employees to switch their cameras on during calls. At the same time, to address this on a deeper level, it is also important to create a sense of belonging.

"It’s not just about work; it’s about how you cultivate communities within your organisation."

Another main point of contention employers may have is the possibility of employees misusing such arrangements. Those working remotely have the potential to do other things during working hours.

One speaker’s philosophy in dealing with this concern is to "trust, but verify"; trust that your employees are doing the right thing while working remotely, but do find a way to verify.

To note, incorporated in the guidelines, employees still on probation are unable to much such requests for such FWAs. This is in recognition of the need for there to be time to build a level of trust between both parties first.

Lastly, the guidelines will also have a big impact on an organisation's recruitment strategy. One takeaway, a speaker shares, is that recruiters have to be extremely transparent. They would have to explain what the company believes in, and the company’s sentiment towards FWAs.

“It should not only be the head of HR or operations that knows about it. Recruiters also have to be very quick to answer questions like this.”

These are some of the insights shared at our Total Rewards Asia 2024, Singapore.

Held at Shangri-La Singapore on 3 & 4 July 2024, the Summit saw more than 200 HR & rewards professionals gather to gain insights on how to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-evolving world of employee benefits, rewards, and compensation.

Human Resources Online would like to thank all speakers, moderators, panellists, facilitators, and attendees for being valuable contributors to this event.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to our sponsors & partners for making this conference possible:

Gold sponsors:

  • AIA
  • Grab For Business
  • O.C. Tanner

Silver sponsors:

  • Deloitte
  • TELUS Health


  • Giftano
  • Lockton
  • Pacific Prime CXA
  • Thoughtfull
  • Zora Health

Lead image / HRO

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