Singapore workplace Covid-19 vaccination guidance updated

Out-Law News | 02 Sep 2021 | 9:30 am | 2 min. read

Employees in certain business sectors in Singapore will be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or undergo regular testing from 1 October.

The affected sectors include healthcare, eldercare and working with children 12 years and below. Sectors where employees interact with customers in higher-risk settings without masks such as food and beverage facilities, gyms and fitness studios and personal care services are also included.

The new ‘Vaccinate or Regular Test’ (VoRT) regime was developed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF). The new guidance replaces the previous guideline, published in July.

Although the VoRT regime is only mandatory for the named business sectors, all employers in Singapore are being encouraged to adopt it as a company policy for existing employees and new hires.

The new regime allows employers to adopt different measures for their vaccinated and unvaccinated employees in consultation with trade unions, where appropriate.

Under the guideline, all medically eligible employees are encouraged to get vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as possible. Employers should provide employees paid time off for vaccination, and additional paid sick leave if employees suffer severe side effects afterwards.

All employers in Singapore are allowed to ask employees for their vaccination status for business reasons. Employers that adopt the VoRT regime are entitled to request proof of vaccination from employees, and to treat as unvaccinated those employees who refuse to do.

The new regime allows employers to treat employees differently depending on whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated. However, employers are not permitted to terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the basis of vaccination status alone, or to place unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave for an extended period without the employee’s written consent. Employers may terminate the contract with an unvaccinated employee who does not comply with reasonable vaccination-differentiated workplace measures.

Unvaccinated employees can be required to take more frequent tests compared to vaccinated employees, or can be required to undergo pre-event testing before participating in workplace events. Employers may also implement reduced group sizes when unvaccinated employees participate in workplace events, particularly where masks are not worn during the relevant activities.

Employers can also opt to redeploy unvaccinated employees to other jobs where the risk of Covid-19 infection is lower, in line with the employee’s experience and skills and as per existing redeployment policies. Where no redeployment policy exists, terms and conditions for redeployment should be mutually agreed between the employer and employee.

Employers may introduce other vaccination-differentiated workplace measures on their own accord where these are reasonable and necessary for business operations and employees’ health and safety. The employer must be able to justify the measures to employees and the government in the event of a dispute. If there is a union, the union and the employer may mutually agree on these additional measures.

Employers should cover costs which are “necessary and common” for both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. However, unvaccinated employees who are medically eligible for the vaccine can be required to cover additional Covid-19 expenses, such as the cost of additional test kits or Stay-Home Notice (SHN) accommodation. Employers can recover the cost via salary deductions where the unvaccinated employee does not pay directly for the relevant service.

Medically eligible but unvaccinated employees who contract Covid-19, and who require more time for recovery than vaccinated employees, can be required to use their existing leave entitlements to take the extra time required, or be placed on unpaid leave if their leave entitlement has been used up. Employers may also choose to exclude these employees from medical benefits or insurance coverage in relation to Covid-19.

Employers who adopt the VoRT regime as their company policy are expected to communicate any vaccination-differentiated measures and associated additional costs to affected employees and jobseekers in advance.

Mayumi Soh of Pinsent Masons MPillay, the Singapore joint law venture between MPillay and Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “All employers should take note on the new advisory, and consider its obligations as well as best practices. All vaccination-differentiated workplace measures should also be clearly communicated to all employees, so as to ensure that all parties are clear about the workplace situation.”