On August 23, 2021, the Singapore Ministry of Manpower issued updated advisory guidelines setting out the options available for employers to facilitate vaccination in the workplace and to adopt vaccination-based differentiated workplace measures.
These do not carry the force of law, but we believe such policies will be very persuasive if and when employment disputes go before the Singapore courts. All companies with Singapore employees should examine these guidelines in detail before implementing any COVID-related HR measures.
Under the “Updated advisory on COVID-19 Vaccination in Employment Settings” (the Guidelines):
- All Singapore employers are urged to adopt a “vaccinate or regular test” (VoRT) regime from October 1, 2021. While VoRT is currently mandatory only for certain sectors (e.g., healthcare, eldercare, food and beverage establishments), the Singapore government strongly encourages all employers to adopt the VoRT regime for both existing employees and new hires.
- Under the VoRT regime, employers may adopt differentiated workplace measures for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, such as
- requiring vaccinated employees to produce proof of vaccination
- subjecting unvaccinated employees to COVID-19 tests up to twice a week
- requiring unvaccinated employees to undergo testing before participating in workplace events
- redeploying unvaccinated employees working in “high-risk” settings to another job with a lower risk of infection
- any other measures that are “reasonable and necessary” for business operations and to better protect the health and safety of all employees
- In relation to employees who are medically eligible for vaccines but who remain unvaccinated, employers can require them to bear the costs of test kits and any additional quarantine accommodation costs. However, employers who voluntarily adopt the VoRT regime should fund test kits for the medically ineligible employees.
Although the government has stated that it is important that employees who are not vaccinated or who decline to disclose their vaccination status are not terminated, threatened with termination, or discriminated against by virtue of vaccination status alone, the overall effect of the various guidelines appear to lean toward treating vaccinated employees more favorably. For example, the Guidelines now state that employers can exercise their contractual rights to terminate the employment of an unvaccinated employee if that employee does not comply with “reasonable vaccination-differentiated workplace measures.” This may mean that if a Singaporean employer voluntarily adopts a VoRT policy but an employee who is medically eligible for a vaccine both refuses to get vaccinated and to undertake regular testing, this could constitute grounds for termination.
Should companies decide to adopt the VoRT scheme beginning October 2021, company policies and procedures should be reviewed/aligned/revised as soon as possible to ensure that the new measures relating to vaccinations and regular testing come under the permitted framework and are in compliance with data privacy laws.
The full Guidelines are available here: https://www.mom.gov.sg/covid-19/advisory-on-covid-19-vaccination-in-employment-settings.