In light of the Singapore Government strongly encouraging those who are medically eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccination, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM“), the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation (together, the “Tripartite Partners“) had on 2 July 2021 jointly issued an Advisory on COVID-19 vaccination in employment settings (“Advisory“).
A summary of the Advisory is as follows:
- Workplace vaccination policy
As Singapore’s National Vaccination Programme is not mandatory, employers should not make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for employees unless the exception for “higher risk employment settings” applies (discussed below). Employers should instead strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated by providing support and benefits to employees, including providing paid vaccination leave and additional paid medical leave in the event of side effects as well as educating employees on the benefits of being vaccinated.
Employers may also ask employees for their vaccination status for business purposes such as business continuity planning. However, employers should not terminate or penalise employees who decline vaccination.
- Employees in higher risk employment settings
Some employees may be exposed to employment settings with higher risks of COVID-19 infection. Categories of higher risk employment settings are as follows:
- higher risk of exposure to COVID-19;
- employees in communal living environments; and
- work environment or nature of work does not allow for Safe Management Measures to be effective or practicable.
Non-exhaustive examples of jobs in such higher risk employment settings can be found in the Advisory and includes front line workers, employees living in dormitories and construction, marine shipyard and process employees who are deployed to work sites.
Requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a company policy
Employers may impose the vaccination requirement as a company policy for higher risk employment settings or when recruiting or advertising for new hires in such settings.
Employers requiring vaccination should clearly communicate the policy to employees.
Managing employees who decline vaccination
Employees in higher risk employment settings who decline vaccination should not be penalised or terminated by employers. Employers may instead:
(a) redeploy such employees to another job in a lower risk setting that commensurate with the employee’s experience and skills or as mutually agreed between the employer and the employee;
(b) recover COVID-19 related costs (e.g. costs of COVID-19 testing or Stay Home Notice (“SHN”) accommodation) incurred from employees (who declined vaccination) that are over and above the costs incurred for vaccinated employees in similar employment settings. Alternatively, employers may require employees to pay such costs to the relevant service providers directly; or
(c) adopt a differentiated leave policy for vaccinated employees and employees who decline vaccination such as requiring employees who decline vaccination to go on no-pay leave during any SHN.
Other measures may be mutually agreed between the union and the employer (if applicable).
Employers should also make reasonable efforts to find out why employees decline vaccination and address their concerns.
For employees who are not medically eligible for vaccination, employers should exempt them from the company’s vaccination requirement and redeploy them in accordance with measure (a) above. However, employers should not recover any COVID-19 related costs from such employees if they decline the redeployment offer.
- Safe Management Measures
Even though employees may be vaccinated, Safe Management Measures, including mask-wearing and where required, wearing of Personal Protective Equipment, must still be observed at workplaces.
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
Although it is clear that COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory in Singapore and employees can refuse to be vaccinated, employers should not terminate or penalise employees who decline being vaccinated. Instead, employers should try to address the employee’s reasonable concerns and adopt other alternatives e.g. redeployment. Employers may also consider offering incentives to encourage employees to be vaccinated.