safe management measures, mask-off, tripartite partners, wellbeing, salary and leave arrangements, flexible work arrangements, fwas, singapore

With 100% of employees who can work from home allowed to return to the office from 26 April, here's what employers and HR teams are to note in all general workplace settings.

Effective 26 April 2022 (Tuesday), Singapore will be largely easing a series of COVID-19 measures, as the country continues to see a drop in its daily infection numbers.

As part of these measures, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) announced on Friday (22 April) that all employees may now return to the workplace, an increase from the current limit of 75% of those who can work from home.

In light of this, employers and HR teams are to note the following updated workplace safe management measures (SMMs) shared by the Ministry of Manpower following the announcement. These measures, the Ministry noted, are meant for general workplace settings. Specific workplaces such as shipyards may have to fulfil additional requirements and should refer to sector-specific requirements.

Requirements for safe management measures

Taking care of your workers

First, in line with the easing of Vaccination-Differentiated SMMs (VDS), the Workforce Vaccination Measures (WVM) have also been lifted with effect from 26 April 2022.

Nevertheless, given that the pandemic is not over, tripartite partners have agreed that employers have the flexibility to continue implementing vaccination-related instructions for employees for workplace health and safety and business continuity reasons, and in accordance with the employment law.

Employers and employees can refer to the Updated Advisory on COVID-19 Vaccination at the Workplace for more details on the arrangements.

Second, employees returning to the workplace are encouraged to self-test when they feel unwell or had recent contact with an infected person. Eemployers are also encouraged to continue to offer flexible work arrangements (FWAs) such as telecommuting and staggered work hours.

"FWAs have strengthened the resilience of workplaces during the pandemic, support employees’ work-life harmony, and contribute to a more engaged and productive workforce and better talent attraction and retention," the tripartite partners noted. (More on this below).

Third, notwithstanding the mask-on requirement in indoor settings, employees will be allowed to remove their masks at the workplace in the following instances:

  1. when they are not interacting physically with others, and
  2. when they are not in customer-facing areas.

"While this concession will provide some flexibility for employees as more return to the workplace, everyone is advised to exercise social responsibility and maintain an appropriate safe distance from others while unmasked."

Fourth, employers are encouraged to support employees’ mental well-being during work (whether it is working from home or at the workplace), and can adopt the recommendations in the Tripartite Advisory on mental wellbeing at workplaces.

Taking care of your workplace

Employers are reminded to have common spaces and touchpoints cleaned regularly, in accordance with the National Environment Agency's (NEA) advisory.

Employers are also advised to increase ventilation where possible, in accordance with advisories by NEA or the Building and Construction Authority.

In addition to the above, employers are also encouraged to measure their carbon dioxide levels within the premises to keep within NEA’s guidelines of 800 parts per million (ppm).

What to do when workers are infected

Workers should inform their employers if they are unwell, tested positive for COVID-19, or identified by MOH as a close contact of an infected person. While in isolation, workers should adhere to the health protocols set out by the Ministry of Health. 

Steps for employers to take: Upon notification that workers had been infected, employers are encouraged to take the following steps to reduce the risk of workplace transmission:

  1. Establish if colleagues had interacted with the infected worker recently (e.g. meals together with colleagues).
  2. Conduct ART on colleagues who had interacted with the infected worker and follow Health Protocols. There is no need to send them home if they are tested negative.
  3. Clean the area where the infected worker was working, in accordance with NEA’s advisory. Deep cleaning of the premises is not required.
  4. Review the implementation of Safe Management Measures.

Employers should also refer to the Advisory on work and leave arrangements for employees who test positive for COVID-19 but are mildly symptomatic or physically well.

"It is important that employers ensure that the risk of transmission at the workplace is reduced to as low as possible even as we transit to an endemic situation. Otherwise, employers may face severe disruption to their operations if more workers are infected," the tripartite partners highlighted.

Implement a system of safe management measures

Employers must establish a system to implement the SMMs in a sustainable manner so as to provide a safe working environment. This includes:

  1. Assessing and identifying the risks of transmission of COVID-19 that may arise in the workplace, and mitigating it.
  2. A detailed monitoring plan to ensure compliance with SMMs and timely resolution of outstanding issues.
  3. Communicating and explaining measures to employees so as to reduce misunderstanding, especially in measures related to working from home.

The tripartite partners have shared a checklist of safe management measures employers can use as a guide, here

Employers can also appoint Safe Management Officer(s) to assist in the implementation, coordination, and monitoring of the system at the workplace. The roles of the Officer(s) include:

  1. Coordinate the implementation of safe management measures, including identifying relevant risks, recommending and assisting in implementing measures to mitigate the risks, and communicating the measures to all personnel working in the workplace;
  2. Conducting inspections and checks to ensure compliance. Any non-compliance found during the inspections should be reported and documented;
  3. Assisting the employer to rectify the non-compliance found during the inspections and checks through immediate action, and
  4. Keeping records of inspections, checks, and corrective actions, to be made available upon request by a Government Inspector.

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Employers in Singapore encouraged to make FWAs permanent

Following the announcement on the easing of measures, the tripartite partners —  MOM, the National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation — released a statement encouraging employers to "sustain and promote" FWAs as a permanent feature of the workplace.

"FWAs have strengthened the resilience of workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. Practices such as telecommuting and staggered work hours have become more prevalent, as more employers and employees recognise the benefits of FWAs. Globally, employers increasingly embrace FWAs as part of the future of work," the partners pointed out.

To ensure operational effectiveness and sustainability in the long run, employers should regularly engage with their employees in deciding on the FWAs that best suit business needs and work-life needs, it was stated.

The tripartite partners shared a set of recommendations employers can consider in doing so:

  1. Employers should continue to make efforts to provide flexibility for employees, including redesigning jobs where needed, while taking into consideration business needs.
  2. Employers should continue to manage, assess, appraise, and remunerate employees who use FWAs fairly and objectively, in line with the principles in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.
  3. Employees should use FWAs responsibly and ensure continued work productivity. FWAs are not an entitlement and the requirements of the job take precedence.
  4. Trust should also be maintained between employers and employees, through regular and open communication to discuss what FWAs are practical and sustainable, and the organisational outcomes and deliverables that need to be met.

Telecommuting practices

Per the statement, employers are encouraged to allow their employees to telecommute as part of the permanent FWAs, even as more employees who can work from home may now return to the workplace. The following could be considered:

  • Employers may require employees to report to the office for meetings and to foster team collaboration, while permitting telecommuting for tasks that do not need to be done onsite. There is a range of telecommuting arrangements that can be considered, ranging from regular frequency to ad-hoc, and from full-day to part-day telecommuting.
  • Employers may consider redesigning suitable jobs to increase the possibility of telecommuting. Employers may also adopt technology to transform jobs, allowing work that is traditionally performed onsite to be done offsite.
  • Employers may consider redesigning workspaces to leverage more satellite offices or co-working spaces, to enable employees to work closer to home.
  • In developing their telecommuting policy for employees whose roles allow them to do so, employers may consider the need for culture and team building, as well as maintaining team cohesion.

Besides telecommuting, other forms of FWAs (e.g. flexi-time and flexi-load) continue to be important, as not all employees can telecommute, the tripartite partners noted. For example, frontline employees who are not able to telecommute may benefit from other FWAs such as part-time work and ad-hoc time-off from work, to better manage personal or family responsibilities while still contributing effectively at work.

The statement added: "The public service will take the lead. All public agencies have adopted the Tripartite Standard on FWAs. Eligible public officers in job roles that are conducive to hybrid work will be allowed to telecommute for an average of two days a week. The Public Service will also seek to develop new supervisory skills in terms of managing teams effectively in a hybrid work environment."

The tripartite partners went on to share a set of resources that employers may consider referring to on their FWA journey, including:

  1. Playbook on Hybrid Workplaces by the Institute of Human Resource Practitioners. The playbook provides guidance, case studies, and resources on how to implement suitable practices, such as fair and effective management, assessment, and appraisal of employees regardless of working arrangements.
  2. The Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements (TS-FWA), which provides best practices for employers and recognises progressive employers that implement them. Tripartite partners aim to increase adoption of the TS-FWA by employers to cover four in 10 employees by the end of 2022.
  3. Grant support for pre-approved digital solutions (e.g. under Productivity Solutions Grant, SMEs Go Digital) which can reduce the need for on-site presence and facilitate remote working.
  4. Work-Life Harmony Diagnostic Tools for Employers by NTUC, which helps employers to perform self-assessment of the work-life support and the level of employee’s work-life harmony including Flexible Work Arrangements.
  5. Workshops by SNEF wherein HR practitioners will discuss the potential risks, employers’ legal obligations, and the implementation of after-hours work communication policy to balance both business needs and employees’ wellbeing.

Photo /  123RF

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