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Singapore to allow up to 75% of employees to be in office from 5 April 2021

Singapore to allow up to 75% of employees to be in office from 5 April 2021

The tripartite partners recently reviewed the safe management measures at workplaces to allow for more employees to return to workplaces in Singapore. This comes as a result of local community cases remaining low in the past month, and the steady progress of the vaccination programme.

According to a press release by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the updated requirements will take effect from 5 April 2021. 

For employers and workplaces, this means a shift away from working-from-home as a default to a more flexible and hybrid way of working. 

From 5 April 2021, up to 75% of the employees (who are presently able to work from home) can now be at the workplace at any one time, up from the current 50%. The current cap on the time an employee spends at the workplace will also be lifted.

That said, staggered start times and flexible working hours should continue to be implemented where possible to lower transmission risks. 

Under the new guidelines, split team arrangements are no longer mandatory, although companies may continue to adopt such arrangements for business continuity purposes if they so choose. While restrictions against cross-deployment across workplaces remain in place

As more employees return to the workplace, companies are urged to remain vigilant and continue to implement the prevailing safe management measures such as regular cleaning of common spaces, demarcating safe physical distancing and mask-wearing at all times. 

When it comes to work-related events, companies are reminded to adhere to the necessary safe-distancing and capacity limits to keep employees and stakeholders safe. Due to the higher risk of transmission when people are unmasked, meals should not be the main feature of the event, and companies should avoid holding events over mealtimes as far as possible.

Additionally, social and recreational gatherings, such as team bonding events organised by the employer, will be allowed but must be limited to a total size of no more than eight people.

The MOH noted that enforcement actions will be taken against employers who fail to comply with the safe management measures, and that will include the possibility of workplace closures.

Employers also have to be prepared that the situation is a dynamic one. If there is increased risk of COVID-19 resurgence, we will have to adjust our posture and more stringent measures at workplaces will have to be re-introduced.

In line with this, the Ministry of Manpower has updated its requirements for Safe Management Measures at the workplace. Key points to take note of include: 

  • No more than 75% of employees who are able to work from home are at the workplace at any point in time.
  • There is no limit on the proportion of an individual employee’s working time that can be spent at the workplace.
  • Support as many employees in working from home as possible.
  • Work-from-home measures should enable employees to maintain work-life harmony while continuing to meet business needs.
  • For employees who are still unable to work from home, employers should review work processes, provide necessary IT equipment and adopt solutions that enable remote working and online collaboration. 
  • Continue to conduct virtual meetings as far as possible.
  • Pay special attention to vulnerable employees (e.g. persons who are aged 60 and above, and patients who are immunocompromised4 or have concurrent medical conditions).
    • Employers are encouraged to enable these employees to work-from-home, allow them to travel to/from work at off-peak timings, temporarily redeploy them to another role within the company, or take other appropriate measures to reduce their exposure to infection risk.

The requirements also noted that employers must ensure the following precautions are in place for those working in the workplace: 

  •  Stagger start times and allow flexible workplace hours. such that at least half of all employees arrive at the workplace at or after 10am, as far as possible. Timings of lunch and other breaks should also be staggered accordingly.
  • Flexible workplace hours should be allowed for employees who can work-from-home but who return to the workplace. This is not to shorten work hours, but to allow flexibility to reduce the duration spent in the workplace, while also working from home during the day.
  • If it is not feasible to implement staggered start times, flexible workplace hours, and staggered break hours due to operational reasons (e.g. manufacturing production line activities), employers must implement other systemic arrangements to reduce congregation of employees at common spaces.
  • Ensure there is no cross-deployment across worksites. If cross-deployment cannot be avoided (e.g. due to the nature of the job), additional safeguards must be taken to minimise the risk of cross-infection.

For work-related events, the MOM requires employers to adhere to prevailing workplace Safe Management Measures as well as ensure the following:

  • The number of people per event must be capped at 50 to limit the risk of exposure to infection.
  • Attendees must maintain at least 1-metre safe distancing between individual attendees, as per the requirement at the workplace.
  • Meals should not be the main feature of the event. Food or drinks should only be served if incidental to the workplace event (e.g. the meeting or conference extends over lunchtime). In addition, the food must be served individually with the participants seated while consuming. Participants should minimise the time that they are unmasked while eating.
  • Work-related events at third-party venues will also be subject to any additional premise owners’ safe management policies.

The MOH also shared that from 24 April 2021, a number of selected events and activities will be allowed to scale up further if pre-event testing is implemented for attendees. 

This includes pilot business-to-business events. Currently, business-to-business events being piloted and approved by Singapore Tourism Board (STB) may have up to 250 attendees, in zones of no more than 50 attendees each. 

However, if pre-event testing is implemented, these events will be allowed to have up to 750 attendees, in zones of no more than 50 attendees each.

At the same time, from 24 April 2021, those who have completed the full vaccination regimen and have had time to develop sufficient protection (i.e. two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccination) can gain entry to events that implement pre-event testing without the need to undergo pre-event testing.

An update about the progress of the vaccination programme was shared, with around 1,109,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered as of 23 March 2021. 

More than 799,000 individuals have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Amongst them, around 310,000 individuals have received their second doses and completed the full vaccination regimen.

With more than 55% of seniors aged 60-69 having received their vaccination or made appointments to do so, the vaccination programme will now be rolled out to the younger age groups, starting with those aged 45 to 59. A two-step process will be adopted for this, as follows: 

  • All who are eligible can register directly at the vaccine.gov.sg website.
  • The registrants will receive an SMS with a personalised URL enabling them to book their vaccination appointments online.

Photo / 123RF

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