However, under no circumstances should an employer terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the basis of vaccination status alone, per the updated advisory.
From 1 October 2021, unvaccinated employees in selected sectors in Singapore—such as healthcare, F&B, and fitness—would be required to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing (VoRT) regime. This falls under the updated Tripartite Advisory on COVID-19 Vaccination at the Workplace released on Monday (23 August 2021), which supersedes the 2 July edition.
Some sectors that would be required to implement the new regime are: healthcare, food services, gyms & fitness studios, border front-line workers, and more. [Scroll below for the full list of relevant sectors.]
Per the advisory, employers can require medically eligible but unvaccinated employees under the VoRT regime to bear any additional costs related to COVID-19 (e.g., cost of test kits, costs of Stay-Home Notice accommodation), leave (e.g., no-pay leave), or medical benefits (e.g., insurance coverage).
That said, the tripartite partners (Ministry of Manpower, Singapore National Employers Federation, National Trades Union Congress) reiterated that under no circumstances should an employer terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the basis of vaccination status alone.
“Employers should also not place employees on no-pay leave for an extended duration without their mutual consent in writing.
“However, employers may exercise their right to contractually terminate employment if unvaccinated employees do not comply with reasonable vaccination-differentiated workplace measures.”
Vaccination-differentiated workplace measures under the VoRT regime
As employers prepare to adopt VoRT for the workforce, they may, in consultation with the unions (if applicable), adopt differentiated workplace measures for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees in their workforce.
This could be done in four ways: increase testing frequency, engage in pre-event testing for work and social events, redeploy unvaccinated employees, and implement additional workplace safety management measures.
Employers may adopt the VoRT regime on a voluntary basis and subject unvaccinated employees to additional COVID-19 tests (compared to vaccinated employees).
The frequency of testing can, the tripartite partners said, take reference from the frequency under MOH’s guidelines for the VoRT regime. For instance, twice a week for unvaccinated employees in selected sectors.
“A test done under the existing Fast and Easy Testing (FET) or the Rostered Routine Testing (RRT) regime, which is either a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or supervised FET, also counts towards this requirement,” the partners said.
Work and social events
With regard to workplace events, employers may require unvaccinated employees to undergo Pre-Event Testing (PET) before participating, or implement reduced group sizes when unvaccinated employees participate in such events.
“Especially those involving mask-off activities, in line with the prevailing MOH guidelines,” the partners said.
While employers may continue to deploy unvaccinated employees in higher risk activities with regular testing. Employers can also decide whether to redeploy these employees to another job with lower risk of COVID-19 infection, commensurate with the employee’s experience and skills, as per existing redeployment policies.
The Tripartite Partners said: “If there are no existing redeployment policies within the organisation, the terms and conditions for redeployment should be mutually agreed between employers and employees.”
Safety management measures
Employers can also, on their own accord, implement other workplace measures.
In doing so, the partners explained, employers must be prepared to justify to employees and/or the Government (e.g. in the event of a dispute) that such measures are reasonable and necessary for business operations and to better protect the health and safety of all employees.
“The union and the employer may mutually agree on other vaccination-differentiated workplace measures,” the tripartite partners added.
Further, employers who adopt the VoRT regime as their company policy are urged to communicate clearly and in advance to affected employees and jobseekers on the vaccination-differentiated workplace measures and any associated costs to employees who are medically eligible but decline vaccination.
This would mean that employers may ask employees for their vaccination status for business purposes (e.g. business continuity planning).
“Employers that adopt the VoRT regime can further require employees to produce proof of vaccination.
“Employees who refuse to do so would be treated as unvaccinated for the purposes of the vaccination-differentiated measures and the bearing of costs,” the partners explained.
That said, employers should urge all their medically eligible employees who have yet to be vaccinated to do so, and implement public education programmes on vaccine safety and efficacy for their employees.
This could also be done by granting paid time-off to employees for COVID-19 vaccination, and additional paid sick leave (beyond contractual or statutory requirement) in the rare event that the employee experiences a vaccine-related adverse event.
At the same time, the Tripartite Partners said, employees too, should do their part and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Tackling additional costs for medically eligible, unvaccinated employees
As shared above, employers can require medically eligible but unvaccinated employees (i.e., excluding employees who are medically ineligible for mRNA vaccines).
First, employers may recover from these employees COVID-19 related expenses that are incurred over and above those for vaccinated employees. These expenses can be recovered either through salary deduction or by requiring these employees to pay the relevant service provider directly.
Second, the tripartite partners noted that unvaccinated employees may be discharged later from treatment or may be served with longer periods of movement restrictions such as SHN, compared to vaccinated employees. In such situations, employers can require that the additional days a medically eligible but unvaccinated employee has to serve, be taken from existing leave entitlements.
If leave entitlements have been exhausted, employers may require such an employee to go on no-pay leave.
Third, employers may choose to exclude these employees from medical benefits associated with COVID-19, such as insurance coverage.
Sectors subjected to VoRT
- Healthcare, e.g. public and private hospitals, traditional chinese medicine clinics, allied health services.
- Eldercare, e.g. nursing homes, senior care centres, residential facilities.
- Settings with children 12 years and below, e.g. preschools, early intervention centres, student care centres, schools, tuition and enrichment centres.
- Border front-line workers, e.g. workers at air, land, and sea checkpoints, marine & process workers.
- COVID-19 front-line workers, e.g. workers at community care facilities, government quarantine facilities, patient transporters, and swabbers.
- Workers in construction and process construction & maintenance.
- Food Services, e.g. wait staff, kitchen staff.
- Gyms and fitness studios, e.g. instructors and trainers, receptionists.
- Personal care services with prolonged close contact between individuals, e.g. spa, massage, and facial therapists, hairdressers, make-up artists.
- Retail malls and large standalone stores.
- Arts classes, e.g. dance, singing, wind/brass instruments, voice and theatre training (including speech and drama, actor training) classes.
- Pivoted bars, nightclubs, discotheques and karaoke establishments that are allowed to re-open.
- Markets, e.g. stallholders and assistants.
- Last-mile delivery personnel, including parcel and food delivery personnel.
- Cleaners in sectors listed above, and those offering disinfection services.
- Public and private transport, e.g. public bus captains, front-line staff at public transport nodes, taxi and private hire car drivers, driving school/private driving instructors.
- Public Service, including uniformed services.
Image / 123RF