1. Advisory for Employers on Employee Travel
Following the update to the travel restrictions imposed and travel advisories issued by the Ministry of Health of Singapore ("MOH") in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore ("MOM") had on 16 March 2020 issued advisories on (a) employee travel to and from affected COVID-19 areas; and (b) non-essential travel for employees (the "MOM Advisories").
A summary of the MOM Advisories are as follows:
Employers must obtain MOM's approval for foreign employees and their dependents that have transited at or travelled to the affected areas
From 16 March 2020, 2359 hours, any Singapore foreign employees (on work passes, In-Principle Approval, Dependant's Passes or Long-Term Visit Pass holders) and their dependants who have transited at or travelled to prescribed COVID-19 areas within the last 14 days are required to obtain the MOM's approval before they can enter Singapore.
MOM's approval should be obtained before their flights to Singapore are to be confirmed.
Employers have the responsibility to ensure that upon entering Singapore, their foreign employees together with their dependants observe the 14-day Stay-Home Notice requirements provided by the MOH.
Foreign employees who are In-Principle Approval holders will need to complete their Stay-Home Notice before getting their work passes issued. Extensions of their Short-Term Visit Passes and In-Principle Approval can be requested from the MOM.
Medical benefits for employees
If an affected employee has used up their medical benefits provided for under their employment contract due to COVID-19, employers should consider providing additional medical coverage to the affected employee during this period.
Additionally, employers should be flexible during this period and consider allowing affected employees to work from home or if not possible, allowing the affected employee's Stay-Home Notice or Leave of Absence to be considered as paid hospitalisation leave, paid outpatient sick leave or annual leave, where possible.
Employees on Home Quarantine Order will be deemed to be on paid hospitalisation leave.
Employers are advised to review all work-related travel plans and defer all non-essential travel and instead explore alternative ways of business communications such as video-conferencing.
If work-related travel is unavoidable, employers must ensure that their employees’ health is adequately protected in accordance with MOH guidelines. Employers are also expected to provide additional paid leave to affected employees to cover any quarantine / self-isolation period imposed by the destination country, any travel delays and the mandatory Stay-Home Notice or Leave of Absence period.
Employers should remind employees of MOH’s travel advisory to defer all non-essential travel plans. Employers should also obtain a travel declaration from their employees, on whether they have any upcoming overseas travel plans.
If an employee still proceeds for non-work related and non-essential travel, the employer may require the employee to use his own annual leave entitlements to cover the duration of any quarantine / self-isolation period imposed by the destination country, any travel delays and the mandatory Stay-Home Notice or Leave of Absence period. If an employee does not have sufficient annual leave entitlements, the employer may allow him to use advance leave or be placed on no-pay leave.
2. Updates to Retrenchment / Redundancy Advisory in Singapore
As a result of COVID-19, businesses in Singapore have suffered slowdowns and a decline in revenue and as such, have started to implement cost-saving measures such as reduction of employees' salaries. In light of this, on 11 March 2020, the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment (the "Tripartite Advisory") was updated. These updates are meant to be temporary measures until the economy recovers.
A summary of the updates to the Tripartite Advisory is as follows:
Employers must notify the MOM of any cost-saving measures affecting employee's salaries
From 12 March 2020, Singapore-registered employers with 10 or more employees must notify the MOM of any cost-saving measures affecting employee's salaries within seven (7) calendar days from implementation. This would not include adjustments to discretionary payments such as bonuses and increments.
Before implementing such cost-saving measures, employers should obtain consent from unions and affected employees. Employers should also communicate all cost-saving measures and their impacts clearly to unions and employees.
If the salaries of foreign employees on work passes are affected, employers would have to seek the MOM's approval on the salary adjustments before implementation.
Flexible Work Schedule to allow employers to use unused working hours to offset overtime hours
Eligible employers are encouraged to implement flexible work schedule arrangements, which allow them to be exempted from certain Singapore Employment Act requirements in relation to overtime, work done on rest days and public holidays.
Employers are also allowed to reduce weekly working hours and keep unused working hours to offset any subsequent overtime hours.
Employers who would like to implement a flexible work schedule would have to obtain consent from unions and affected employees as well as the MOM's approval before doing so.
Focusing on Training and Upskilling
The Tripartite Advisory encourages Singapore employers to use this period of slowdown to train and upskill their employees, which will in turn benefit employers when normal business resumes. This would help retain and increase productivity of employees and to prepare them for the demands when normal business resumes.
The Singapore Government has provided support and various grants in relation to employee training and upskilling such as the SkillsFuture Movement and the Adapt and Grow initiative.
Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have questions on the Advisory and click here to read our previous article on practical tips in dealing with COVID-19 from a Singapore employment perspective.