Employers must allow their employees to work from home as far as reasonably practicable or risk being penalised, said Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo on Tuesday (31 March) via a video conference virtual briefing.
The government has urged employees to adopt flexible work arrangements in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, now making it an offence for employers who fail to take appropriate measures where possible.
This comes under the latest amendments to Infectious Diseases Act which was published in the government gazette earlier today (2 April) which follows a previous update gazetted on 26 March.
According to the Act, every company must provide facilities that are necessary for every employee to telecommute during this time. Companies are also compelled to instruct its employees to work from only unless it is “not reasonably practicable to do so”.
Employers also have to implement staggered arrival and departure times for employees that are unable to telecommute, to minimise physical contact between staff.
Additionally, employers must also take steps to ensure at least 1m between each individual in the workplace, adhering to social distancing measures. Also, visitors such as delivery workers are not to arrive at the same time and should not stay for longer than necessary.
Organised company events and activities are also to be postponed or cancelled unless the activity is “critical to the operations of the employer’s or principal’s organisation”. Other events that can still be carried out include vocational or professional training for staff.
Violation of these can result in a fine of up to S$10,000 or imprisonment for up to six months, or both.
Apart from this, the Act also requires that the workplace has natural ventilation during working hours as far as is reasonably practical. Also, temperatures of every person to enter the workplace will have to be taken, as well as contact details. Those showing symptoms have to be refused entry.
As for employees, anyone who feels unwell or begins to develop symptoms have to report it immediately to their employers. Those who start to feel unwell while at work must be provided with a face mask and be asked to leave immediately. If they are unable to leave immediately, the staff should be isolated, as stipulated by the Act.
Any staff who has been asked to stay home due to presentation of symptoms will face similar penalties if they violate the orders.
Stop-work orders for firms that do not take this seriously
During the briefing on Tuesday, Ms Teo pointed out that some private-sector firms have achieved high rates of telecommuting, such as Bloomberg, at 80 percent. However, only about 40 percent of firms in the Central Business District have permitted their employees to work from home, based on MOM inspections and observations.
She noted that firms which require help in implementing telecommuting can approach the Singapore National Employers Federation, the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, or the Employment and Employability Institute. Besides that, the Work Life Grant will be improved to aid companies in allowing telecommuting to workers.
She added that the government will take a measured approach in enforcing these penalties by first considering the company’s circumstances.
“If the company is really not taking it seriously at all, then we have no choice and will not hesitate to issue a stop-work order,” she said.
The duration of the stop-work order will depend on the severity of the case, said Ms Teo.