On 2 July 2021, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) (together, “Tripartite Partners”) issued an advisory, available on MOM’s website www.mom.gov.sg, to provide guidance to employers and employees regarding Covid-19 vaccination in employment settings.
Generally, employers should not make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory, and should not penalise employees who decline vaccination (e.g. by termination of employment). Employers should strongly encourage and facilitate all their medically eligible employees to get vaccinated. For example, employers may grant paid time-off to employees for Covid-19 vaccination, or facilitate public education programmes on vaccine safety and efficacy for their employees. Employers may ask employees for their vaccination status for business purposes, e.g. business continuity planning.
The advisory encourages employees to get vaccinated, to protect themselves and others at the workplace.
Employment settings where employees are exposed to higher risk of Covid-19 infection
The advisory also provides guidance to cover instances where an employee’s employment setting exposes him or her to a higher risk of Covid-19 infection compared to the general employment setting, either because of work circumstances or living conditions. As a guide, the advisory has set out three categories of such employment settings:
- Higher risk of exposure to Covid-19: This refers to a work environment that exposes employees to a significantly higher risk of Covid-19 exposure than in the general community, e.g. laboratory employees working on Covid-19, healthcare employees, aircrew, frontline maritime employees and hotel employees in contact with people serving Stay Home Notice (“SHN”).
- Employees in communal living environment: An example of this would be employees living in dormitories, i.e. in a communal living environment where safe management measures may not be effective or practicable.
- Work environment or nature of work does not allow for safe management measures to be effective or practicable: This refers to activities that require masks to be removed frequently, or high density workplaces where safe distancing may not be effective or practicable and there is risk of large clusters forming, e.g. professional athletes engaged in sports requiring close physical contact; or construction, marine shipyard and process employees (excluding headquarter employees who are not deployed to work sites).
The advisory also provides that a useful reference point in assessing whether an employment setting exposes an employee to a higher risk of Covid-19 infection is whether the employee is required to undergo Rostered Routine Testing (RRT), mandated Fast and Easy Testing (FET), or is in regular contact with known Covid-19 cases/persons who are isolated due to risk of Covid-19 infection.
Covid-19 vaccination as a company policy for higher risk employment settings
For higher risk employment settings, the advisory provides that employers may require Covid-19 vaccination as a company policy (and should provide additional paid sick leave to support recovery from immediate adverse medical complications arising from vaccination), and also impose the requirement to be vaccinated upfront at the point of recruitment or advertisement for new hires. For employees who decline vaccination, employers may, in consultation with the unions (if applicable), adopt the following measures:
- Redeploy the employee to another job with lower risk of Covid-19 infection that is commensurate with the employee’s experience and skills, as per existing redeployment policies. If there are no existing redeployment policies, the terms and conditions for redeployment should be mutually agreed between employers and employees; or
- Recover Covid-19 related costs incurred by the employer from employees (who declined vaccination) that are over and above the costs incurred for vaccinated employees in similar employment settings. Employers may also adopt a differentiated leave policy for vaccinated employees versus employees who decline vaccination such as putting the latter on no-pay leave for the duration of any SHN served.
The union and the employer may also mutually agree on other measures to be taken for employees who decline vaccination. An employer should not, under any circumstances, terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the ground of declining vaccination.
Employees not suitable for vaccination, or not scheduled for vaccination
Employees who belong to groups identified by the Ministry of Health as not suitable to receive the Covid-19 vaccine or are not scheduled for vaccination yet should be exempted from the vaccination requirement. Employers may consider redeploying these employees to reduce the risk of infection at the workplace, but may not impose cost recovery measures as described above if such employees decline the redeployment offer.
Employers who require vaccination in their company policy are expected to communicate clearly to affected employees the following, and make reasonable efforts to find out why employees decline vaccination and address their concerns:
- Reassure employees that they will not be penalised or have their employment terminated for declining the Covid-19 vaccination;
- Jobs or employment settings which expose employees to a higher risk of Covid-19 infection and explain why vaccination is required;
- Measures taken by employers for employees who decline vaccination; and
- Any form of assistance offered to individuals who suffer from adverse complications due to the vaccination requirement.
Mom FAQs on Covid-19 vaccinations
MOM has also made available on its website Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) about the Covid-19 vaccination in employment settings, such as leave arrangements and guidance for higher risk employment settings.
Observing safe management measures even after vaccination
The advisory reminds that it is important for employers and employees, including those who are vaccinated, to continue observing safe management measures at workplaces, such as mask-wearing and where required, donning of personal protective equipment. According to the FAQs, there is no need to segregate vaccinated employees from non-vaccinated employees.
In addition, we have a cross-disciplinary Covid-19 Legal Task Force consisting of Partners across various practice areas to provide rapid assistance. Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.