JTJB Law Bites Nov 21
A lot has happened since our last update on regional vaccination standards and measures in August.
Notably, Singapore has taken some significant steps to ensure that the country moves towards business normalcy, and that those who have chosen not to be vaccinated bear some responsibility for the potential consequences.
Workforce Vaccination Measures
Last month, the Singapore Multi-Ministry Task Force announced a set of new “Workforce Vaccination Measures”, which will take effect on 1 January 2022.
The tripartite partners – Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC)- have also provided guidance and clarification to employers on the adjustments that can be made to their HR policies.
Under the new measures, only employees who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 within the past 270 days, can return to the workplace. The measures also apply to independent contractors and vendors.
All unvaccinated employees will not be allowed to return to workplaces unless they have a negative Covid-19 Pre-Event Test result, which must be valid during the course of employees’ physical presence in the workplace. Employees must also bear the cost of the tests.
For unvaccinated employees whose work can be done remotely, employers can allow them to continue to do so, However, such working arrangements remain at the employers’ prerogative.
For unvaccinated employees whose work cannot be done remotely, employers may either allow them to continue in their existing job and take their COVID-19 Pre-Event Test outside of working hours or redeploy these employees to suitable jobs which can be done from home if such jobs are available and pay a salary in line with the responsibilities of the new role.
Employers may also place unvaccinated employees on no-pay leave or terminate the employment by giving contractual notice. If such termination is due to the employee’s inability to be at the workplace to perform their contracted work, this will not be considered wrongful dismissal.
However, employers are encouraged to give special consideration to employees who are pregnant or medically ineligible for the vaccine.
Declaration of Vaccination Status
All employers are also allowed to ask employees for their vaccination status and require them to produce proof of such before attending work. A failure or refusal to provide such proof entitles the employer to treat that employee as unvaccinated.
These new measures form part of a suite of new measures which have announced in the past few months. These measures include the Singapore Ministry of Health announcing that those who are “unvaccinated by choice” will have to start paying for their own COVID-19 treatment starting 8 December. That means that the Singapore government will not foot the bill for all unvaccinated COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals and designated “COVID-19 Treatment Facilities” on or after the specified date. Like the implication of the new measures mentioned above, there are also a few exceptions to this. People who aren’t eligible for vaccination, including children under 12 and people with medical exemptions, will still have their medical bills footed by the government.
Additionally, since 13 October, unvaccinated individuals have not been allowed into shopping malls and attractions. Unvaccinated individuals are also excluded from dining in all restaurants, hawker centres and coffee shops.
Singapore is also keeping tabs on the development of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, and our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong has said that moving forward, Singapore may be forced to roll back on the easing of safety measures. As this is a relatively new development, it remains to be seen whether, and if so to what extent, this new variant will impact the current measures which are in place.
Potential Judicial Review Application
It also appears that there are some who believe that these new measures are discriminatory and that a judicial review is in order. It has come to our attention that in October and November 2021, steps such as crowdfunding, and gathering of interested parties, were taken towards the initiation of such an application. However, as at this time, it is unclear if a judicial review application has in fact been filed and if so, how far the application has progressed.
For more details contact:
JTJB Singapore Office