1. Emergency Measures
Decrees, orders or guidelines in effect and pertaining to reopening facilities.
Laws and regulations
- Infectious Diseases (Workplace Measures to Prevent Spread of Covid-19) Regulations (“Workplace Measures Regulations“)
- Infectious Diseases (Measures to Prevent Spread of Covid-19) Regulations
- Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020
Government advisories and guidelines
- Ministry of Manpower website
- Ministry of Health website
- Ministry of Trade and Industry website
Optimal approach to keep track of the latest updates.
2. State Aid
Government subsidies and special relief resources allocated to support employers, and workers, in their efforts to maintain employment and pull through the crisis.
Set out below is a summary of the employment-related subsidies provided by the Fortitude Budget:
Enhancements to the Job Support Scheme
The enhancements to the Job Support Scheme are as follows:
- Extension of the Job Support Scheme pay-outs for one additional month in August 2020, resulting in a total coverage of 10 months of wages.
- Firms that cannot resume operations immediately after the circuit breaker period (including retail outlets, fitness facilities and cinemas) will receive wage support of 75% until August 2020 or when they are allowed to re-open, whichever is earlier.
- Re-classification of firms in the Job Support Scheme tiers. Firms in more severely impacted sectors such as aerospace, retail and marine and offshore sectors will now receive wage support of either 75% or 50% depending on the sector. Such firms only received wage support of 25% previously.
SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package
Under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, it is intended for approximately 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 skills training to be created.
- SGUnited Jobs – Out of the 40,000 jobs to be created, it is expected for 15,000 to be from the public sector and 25,000 to be from the private sector.
- SGUnited Traineeships – Out of the 25,000 traineeships to be created, 21,000 will be for the SGUnited Traineeships Programme catered to local first-time job seekers and 4,000 for the SGUnited Mid-Career Traineeships Scheme catered to local mid-career job seekers to learn new skills and start new careers.
- SGUnited Skills – This provides training courses to help jobseekers upgrade their skills while looking for a job. A training allowance of S$1,200 will be provided for the course duration to cover basic expenses.
- Hiring Incentive – Employers who hire local employees who have completed the SGUnited Traineeships and SGUnited skills training courses will be able to receive subsidies. For eligible employees under the age of 40, the subsidy will be 20% of the monthly salary of those employees for 6 months, capped at S$6,000 in aggregate. For eligible employees who are 40 and over, the subsidy will be 40% of the monthly salary of those employees for 6 months, capped at S$12,000 in aggregate.
COVID-19 support grant
During discussions with employees, employers can inform employees who will be losing their jobs, who will be placed on no-pay leave or who will face significantly reduced salaries that they may be able to receive up to S$800 per month for 3 months from the Singapore government.
Foreign worker levy waiver and rebate
The foreign worker levy waiver and rebate will be extended for businesses who are not allowed to resume operations on-site immediately after the circuit breaker period. Such businesses include those in the construction, marine and offshore, and processing sectors. The waiver and rebate are as follows:
- June 2020 – 100% waiver and S$750 rebate.
- July 2020 – 50% waiver and S$375 rebate.
Deferment of higher Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates
The planned increase in CPF contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year, from 1 January 2021 to 1 January 2022.
The CPF Transition Offset scheme will also be deferred until after the CPF higher contribution rates take effect.
3. Health and Safety Measures
Requirements mandated by law or any official guidance.
Please see section 5 below.
Measures typically implemented by employers and the associated legal risks, limitations, obligations and issues to consider.
A summary of the Safe Management Measures is set out below:
1. Implementing a system of Safe Management Measures
To provide a safe working environment and minimise risks of further COVID-19 outbreaks, employers must
implement a system of Safe Management Measures in a sustainable manner for as long as necessary, including:
- Implementing a detailed monitoring plan – to ensure compliance of Safe Management Measures and that non-compliance and risks are resolved in a timely manner.
- Appointing Safe Management Officer(s) (SMO) – to assist in implementing, coordinating and monitoring the systems of Safe Management Measures and resolving non-compliance and risks in a timely manner. The SMO should also keep records of inspections, checks and corrective actions taken.
2. Reducing physical interaction and ensuring safe distancing
Where possible, employers must ensure that:
- Employees work from home.
- Meetings are conducted virtually and physical meetings are minimised.
- Events and activities involving close and prolonged contract amongst participants (e.g. conferences, seminars, exhibitions and social gatherings at the workplace) are cancelled or deferred.
- Special attention is given to vulnerable employees to enable them to work from home.
Where employees cannot work from home, employers must ensure that the following are implemented:
- Staggered working and break hours to reduce possible congregation of employees in all common spaces (e.g. entrances, exits, lobbies, canteens and pantries).
Staggered working and break hours must be implemented over at least three one-hourly blocks, with not more than half of the employees reporting to work within each one-hour block (e.g. reporting times from 7.30am to 8.30am for group 1, 8.30am to 9.30am for group 2 and 9.30am to 10.30am for group 3, with corresponding staggered timings for lunch, other breaks and end of work).
Where possible, reporting and ending timings should not coincide with peak-hour travel.
If staggered working and break hours are not possible, employers must implement other measures to reduce congregation of employees at common spaces (e.g. arrange for different groups of employees to arrive/depart through different entrances/exits).
- Implementing shift or split team arrangements.
There must not be any cross-deployment or interactions between employees in different shifts and teams at all times, including outside of work.
If cross-deployment cannot be avoided, additional safeguards must be taken (e.g. ensuring no direct contact with cross-deployed employee).
- Minimising need for common touchpoints in the workplace. Where physical contact is needed, additional safeguard must be taken (e.g. frequent disinfection of common touchpoints).
Where physical interaction in the workplace is required, employers must ensure:
- Clear physical spacing of at least one metre between persons at all times by demarcating safe physical distances via visual indicators or through physical means at workstations, meeting rooms and common spaces.
3. Supporting contact tracing requirements
- Record proximity data on phones to help identify close contacts of COVID-19 patients and reduce transmission. Employers should encourage employees to download and activate the TraceTogether app.
- Control access at workplace by limiting access to only essential employees and authorised visitors. The SafeEntry visitor management system must be used to record entry and exit of all employees and visitors.
Employees and visitors who are unwell must be refused entry to the workplace.
4. Requiring personal protective equipment (PPE) and observing good personal hygiene
- Employers must ensure that everyone entering the workplace including employees and visitors wear a mask and other necessary protective equipment at all times. Employers must also ensure that there are sufficient masks for all employees at the workplace at all times.
- Employers should encourage employees to observe good personal hygiene.
5. Ensuring cleanliness of workplace premises
- Employers must step up cleaning of workplace premises by ensuring regular cleaning and disinfecting of common spaces and shared machinery and equipment before changing hands. Cleaning and disinfecting of spaces where physical meetings are held and meals are taken must be done after each meeting or seating.
- Provision of cleaning (e.g. hand soaps and toilet papers) and disinfecting agents (e.g. hand sanitisers) must be available at all toilets and hand-wash stations and human traffic stoppage points within the workplace (e.g. entrances, reception, lift lobbies, etc.), respectively.
6. Implementing health checks and protocols to manage potential cases
- Employers must conduct regular temperature screening and declarations for all employees and visitors.
Employees and visitors must declare: (i) their overseas travel history during the past 14 days; (ii) if they have been issued with a quarantine or isolation order, Stay-Home Notice, or medical certificate for respiratory symptoms; and (iii) if they have a close contact who is a confirmed case.
Declaration records must be kept for at least 28 days.
- Employers must adhere to prevailing travel advisories.
- Employers must ensure that employees do not clinic-hop and that they only visit one clinic for check-ups if unwell.
Employees who have visited a clinic must submit records to their medical certificates and diagnoses to employers, including if they were tested for COVID-19 and the test results.
- Employers must have an evacuation plan to manage employees who are unwell or suspected cases. Employers must record such cases as part of Safe Management Measures.
- Employers must have a follow-up plan in the event of a confirmed case.
Upon being notified of a confirmed case, employers must immediately vacate and cordon off the immediate section of the workplace premises where the confirmed case worked and carry out thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all areas exposed to the confirmed case, in accordance with the National Environment Agency’s guidelines.
A checklist of the Safe Management Measures can be found here. Employers must ensure that all measures are in place and communicated to employees prior to resuming work.
In addition to the above, employers in the manufacturing sector, with customer-facing operations or in the transportation sector must adopt certain sector-specific measures.
Policies and procedures for telework once the business reopens.
- Working from home must still be the default mode of working. Employees who have been working from home must continue to do so. Employees may only go to the office where there is no other alternative.
- Employer must provide facilities necessary to allow the employee to work in their place of residence unless not reasonable practicable to do so.
- For employees who are still unable to work from home, employers should review work processes, provide the necessary IT equipment to employees and adopt solutions that enable remote working and online collaboration.
5. Managing COVID-19-Related Employee Issues
Management of quarantine, childcare and medical leave for employees affected by COVID-19.
- Employees who are on medical leave or on home quarantine orders due to COVID-19 should be treated as being on paid medical leave leave, as part of the employee’s medical leave eligibility under their employment contracts, collective agreements, or under the Employment Act.
- Where employees have used up their paid medical leave benefits, employers are encouraged to consider providing medical coverage as the employee concerned may face financial hardship during this time.
- Employees who fear infection and refuse to work.
- As far as reasonably practicable, allow natural ventilation of the workplace during working hours.
- Take temperature of every individual entering the workplace and check if they have any specified symptoms.
- Collect contact details of individuals entering the workplace.
- Refuse entry to febrile individuals or individuals who display any specified symptoms or who refuse to comply with temperature taking or provide their contact details.
- Implement safe distancing measures
- Ensure febrile individuals or individuals who display specified symptoms:
- Wear a face mark;
- Leave the workplace immediately; or
- If not possible to leave immediately, isolate the individual.
Please refer to the section 6 regarding teleworking above. Generally, employees should not be expected to report to work unless teleworking is not an option.
Disclosure of employees who are infected.
Employees or other individuals who are (i) febrile; or (ii) have any specified symptoms must not enter the workplace.
Where an employee is feeling unwell, is febrile or has any specified symptoms, this should be reported to the employer. The employer should leave the workplace and consult a doctor immediately. Employers must track and record these cases of illness as part of their Safe Management Measures.
6. Cost-Reduction Strategies
To what extent can employers implement the following cost-reduction strategies as a result of COVID, and what are the primary limitations on each?
While employers are able to ask their employees to temporarily stop work, they would still have obligations towards their employees. This includes:
- paying the employee at least 50% of their gross salary during the days that they are temporarily laid off.
- Asking employees to take up to 50% of their earned annual leave.
- Implementing the layoff period such that it does not exceed 1 month at any one instance subject to review.
Salary reductions should generally only be implemented where the employer is facing extremely poor or uncertain business conditions that are likely to be long-term.
Where employers implement salary reductions, they would need to notify the Ministry of Manpower if:
- They are registered in Singapore; and
- Have at least 10 employees,
- Implement cost-saving measures that result in:
- More than 25% reduction in gross monthly salary for local employees; or
- More than 25% reduction in basic monthly salary for foreign employees.
Where employers receive Job Support Scheme pay-outs, they are expected to use these to support employees’ salaries and a failure to do so may lead to lower future pay-outs. Errant employers may also be denied future payouts and may have their work pass privileges curtailed.
Employers are strongly encouraged to consider alternatives before redundancy. Such alternatives include training employees, redeployment, implementing a flexible work schedule or a shorter work week or temporary layoffs.
Employers who are in sound financial position should continue to pay retrenchment benefits according to their existing employment contracts, collective agreements, memoranda of understanding, or the prevailing norms for retrenchment benefit (ie between 2 weeks and 1 month salary per year of service).
In respect of employers whose businesses are adversely affected, the employer should work with the employee (or the employee’s union, if applicable) to renegotiate for a fair retrenchment benefit linked to the employee’s years of service.
Employers in severe financial difficulties may provide a lump sum retrenchment benefit. Instead of linking retrenchment benefit to employees’ years of service, a lump sum of between one and three months of salary could be provided, taking into consideration the Job Support Scheme pay-outs that employers have received and their financial position.
Please refer to our comments on ‘Furlough’ above.
7. Best Practices
Tips, recommendations and common pitfalls.
- Employers should strive to update their employment policies and procedures to account for teleworking arrangements. This would help to align employer and employee expectations on what is required from both parties in respect of teleworking.
- From a practical aspect, employers may wish to check with their insurers to ensure that their existing work injury insurance covers injuries arising out of employment when the employee works from home as injuries sustained while teleworking would generally be eligible for compensation under the work injury compensation framework.