Under recent amendments made to Singapore’s Infectious Diseases Act on 1 April, employers could now face imprisonment or a fine if they do not facilitate work-from-home (telecommuting) for employees, where reasonable.
From 2 April to 30 April 2020, defined in the Act as the ‘control period’ employers are required to provide the facilities necessary for every employee to work from home, as well as direct every employee to do so, in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the workplace.
Any employer who does not do this, without a reasonable excuse, will be found guilty of an offence and could either be fine up to S$10,000, jailed for up to six months, or both.
Where telecommuting is not possible, employers should also note the following regulations under the Act:
Facilitating safe distancing, communicating arrangements to employees
During this control period, employers are required to implement the following measures, in respect of every employee or individual working at the workplace:
- Where possible, they should be placed in two or more groups in order to avoid or minimise physical interaction between the different groups while in the workplace;
- Where possible, employers should implement staggered working hours for employees who have to work in the workplace, so they do not all arrive and leave at the same time;
- Any employee who displays any specified symptom per the Act (coughing, sneezing, breathlessness, runny nose), or is otherwise physically unwell, should immediately report to the employer or to someone appointed by the employer for this purpose;
- The employer should take reasonable steps to ensure a distance of at least one metre between any two individuals in the workplace.
Without limiting the last point above, the following points should also be noted:
- Where seating is provided (workstations, meeting rooms) in the workplace, if the seating is not fixed to a spot, employers should ensure each seat is at least one metre away from any other seat at all times;
- In any other case, employers should ensure alternate seats are demarcated as seats not to be occupied;
- Where queuing is involved or individuals are gathered in an area (e.g. the pantry or a waiting room), they should be kept at least one metre apart from one another;
- In the instance an individual who is not an employee enters the workplace, for example to deliver food or goods, employers should ensure they do not arrive at the same time and do not remain in the workplace for a longer period than necessary.
An employer must cancel or postpone every organised activity that involves in-person interactions between employees, or between employees and other individuals, during the control period. Exceptions are made in the event:
- The activity is critical to the operations of the organisation;
- Any activity during which employees are provided professional or vocational training or are tested/certified for any professional or vocational purposes;
- Any activity. during which the employees are provided education by an educational institution.
Should an employer, without reasonable excuse, contravene the above measures on social distancing, they shall be found guilty of an offence, and liable to a fine of no more than S$10,000, imprisonment of no more than six months, or both.
Employers must, where reasonable and where applicable to staff and individuals (other than employees), communicate the arrangements and measures to them. Similar to above, if an employer contravenes this without a reasonable excuse, he or she shall face the same charges as above.
In similar government news, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced on 1 April that with immediate effect, the temporary scheme to help businesses manage manpower needs, previously announced on 25 February, will be expanded.
It will now be in place for five months until 31 August 2020, and will apply as follows:
- To allow inter-sectoral transfer of foreign workers for all sectors: Firms in all sectors can hire existing Work Pass holders (WPHs)[who are in Singapore] from other sectors, with the agreement of their current employers. This relaxes the current rule that only allows transfers within the respective sectors;
- To allow transfers of foreign workers whose work permits are nearing expiry for all sectors: Firms in all sectors can hire existing WPHs from their own or another sector, where the work permits are within 40 days of expiry. This is an extension of a scheme that exists for the construction and process sectors for transfers within their own sectors. Agreement from the current employer is not needed.
The hiring firms will be required to meet prevailing criteria under their respective sectors. According to MOM, these new measures will give firms in all sectors even more flexibility to manage their manpower needs, and that firms facing a shortage of manpower can tap on a bigger pool of experienced WPHs and save on search and recruitment costs.
It added: “Firms with excess manpower can transfer their WPHs to other firms more quickly, giving their WPHs the opportunity to continue working in Singapore and save on repatriation costs.”