Covid-19 Outbreak: Employment Considerations In ASEAN.

Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - ASEAN - Labour & Employment

28 February, 2020

 

The World Health Organisa on (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of Interna onal Concern. The epicentre of the epidemic is China, a global powerhouse and key driver of the world’s economic growth. It is no surprise then that the ongoing community spread of the disease in China has had far and wide-reaching consequences, from travel bans and restric ons, to business slowdown and suspension due to interrup ons in supply chains.

 

ASEAN and China are major trading partners. On 20 February 2020, a Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Mee ng on COVID-19 was held in Laos to address the growing urgency and need to cohesively tackle the challenges posed by COVID-19. ASEAN and China agreed to step up coopera on by sharing informa on and best prac ces to enhance capacity in emergency preparedness and response. They also a rmed their commitment to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the socio-economic development of all a ected countries, while trying to maintain economic, trade, and investment ac vi es in the region.

 

A vast majority of the popula on outside China has to grapple with immediate disrup ons arising from ac ons taken by their governments and health authori es as a result of the outbreak. One main area of concern for businesses, which also has a signi cant impact on the ordinary worker on the street, is dealing with employment- related issues during this challenging period.

 

Employers are generally responsible to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, on top of business con nuity concerns. It is advisable for businesses to con nually monitor and assess developments, advice from WHO and direc ves from their government and local authori es in light of COVID-19. Workplace health and safety systems and protocols, and preven ve measures to reduce the chances of infec on, should be in place and e ec vely communicated to employees. Employers also need to consider how to manage a ected employees fairly where stay at home or remote working arrangements become necessary.

 

With this in mind, we hope this special publica on will be helpful to provide an ASEAN-wide overview of key employer obliga ons and considera ons related to COVID-19. 

 

 

SINGAPORE

 

What are an employer’s general obligations to employees?

 

Employers have a general duty under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (“WSH”) to take, so far as is reasonably prac cable, such measures as are necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees at work. Employers who employ foreign workers also have a duty to comply with the regulatory condi ons imposed on them under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and relevant subsidiary legisla on rela ng to the health and safety, upkeep, maintenance and well-being of foreign workers employed by them.

 

Measures taken to reduce the risk of contagion

 

1. General Advisory for Workplace Measures

 

The Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) has on 7 February 2020, in partnership with the Na onal Trades Union Congress (“NTUC”) and the Singapore Na onal Employers Federa on (“SNEF”) issued a General Advisory for Workplace Measures in Response to DORSCON Orange situa on in Singapore (“General Advisory”).

 

Under the General Advisory, employers have been advised to, inter alia, consider implemen ng the following measures:

 

  • split team arrangements for front-line staff to ensure continuity of services;

  • allow back-end staff to work from home where feasible, and consider split-team arrangements to minimise interaction;

  • temperature screening, logging access of visitors and customers to workplaces; and

  • cancel or defer non-essential large scale-events.

    2. Advisory measures for employers and employees travelling to and from Mainland China

    In view of the Ministry of Health (“MOH”) advising travelers to defer all travel to Hubei province and defer all non-essential travel to Mainland China, MOM has also advised employers to take the following general precautions:

  • regularly check the MOH website for the latest update on the COVID-19 situation so that a considered decision can be made on whether to proceed with business travel plans; and

  • obtain a health and travel declaration from their employees, on whether they have travelled to mainland China recently, or if they have any upcoming travel plans to mainland China.

    3. Advisory measures for foreign domestic workers and employers

    MOM has encouraged employers and foreign domestic workers (“FDWs”) to practice good personal hygiene and has provided some guidance on measures that could be taken by employers of FDW to mitigate the spread of the virus in households.

    Generally, it can be said that there should be no potential legal implication from such measures. This is as the above men oned measures are in line with the mandatory measures and advisory measures implemented/recommended by Singapore’s regulatory authorities.

    Consequences of non-compliance

  • Employers who employ foreigners and breach the obligations imposed on them in relation to their foreign employees’ work passes (i.e., Leave of Absence (“LOA”) requirements) may be liable to having their work pass privileges suspended, or to a fine and/or imprisonment.

  • Generally, employers who do not comply with their obligations under the WSH may be liable to:

    • in the case of a natural person, a ne and/or imprisonment; and

    • in the case of a body corporate, to a ne.

 

What are an employer’s obligations towards an employee who has contracted the coronavirus, or been placed under quarantine?

 

1. Employees subject to Stay-Home Notice

 

Stay Home Notice for Foreign employees returning to Singapore from Mainland China

 

On 17 February 2020, MOH announced that the Multi-Ministry Taskforce has decided to introduce a new “Stay-Home Notice”) (“SHN”) for Singapore Residents and long-term pass holders returning to

 

Singapore from Mainland China (outside of Hubei).

 

Employers will be subjected to the following responsibili es before seeking MOM approval:

 

  • Before foreign employees leave for Singapore, the employer must:

    • Ensure a place of residence has been secured for them to serve their 14-day SHN in Singapore. If they are serving their SHN at a private residence or Housing Development Board at, the employer must obtain the landlord’s wri en consent to house them throughout the 14-day SHN. This must be done by the employer directly, and not le to the foreign employee. Alterna vely, the employer can arrange alterna ve housing such as hotels or dormitories.

    • Ensure they have a SIM card with a Singapore telephone number for MOM to contact them. This can also be arranged at the airport when they arrive.

 

After foreign employees arrive in Singapore, the employer must:

 

  • Ensure they fully comply with the addi onal condi ons imposed for the SHN period.
  • Explain and ensure they understand the addi onal condi ons they need to comply with and the advisories they need to observe.
  • Arrange to send them from the airport directly to their place of residence to serve the 14-day SHN immediately upon arrival in Singapore.
  • Ensure they download WhatsApp on their mobile phones and respond to MOM’s phone calls, WhatsApp, video calls or SMSes within the hour.
  • Arrange to provide them with food and other daily essen als during the SHN period as they are not allowed to leave their residences.
  • Arrange for non-emergency medical needs (such as follow-up visits for chronic condi ons, re lling of prescrip on, etc.) so that they do not need to leave their residences during this period.

 

Breach of SHN would result in the following measures being taken, i.e. criminal proceedings, work pass revoca ons and withdrawal of work pass privileges.

 

Leave of Absence for Foreign employees returning to Singapore from Mainland China

 

MOM approval is required for all foreign employees who plan to enter/return to Singapore from Mainland China a er 8 February 2020.

 

Until 18 February 2020 employers must inform the a ected employees that they will be on a 14-day LOA upon arrival in Singapore, and get their wri en acknowledgement. If the entry is a er 18 February 2020, employees would be on a 14-day SHN upon arrival in Singapore.

 

During the LOA period, employers must ensure that employees stay away from the workplace. However, employers may adopt exible work arrangements, such as telecommu ng and teleconferencing, to allow the employees to work from home.

 

Employers will also need to ensure that they have secured appropriate housing for the workers such that they will be able to serve the mandatory 14-day LOA.

If remote working is not possible for employees placed on LOA, employers are encouraged to provide addi onal paid leave on top of employees’ annual leave en tlements for the LOA, especially if their travel to mainland China, for which they are required to be placed under LOA, was work-related. If that is not feasible, employers can consider the following op ons, or a combina on of the op ons, for the employees on LOA:

 

  • treat employees’ LOA as paid hospitalisa on leave or paid outpa ent sick leave;
  • allow employees to apply for annual leave;

  • allow employees to use advanced paid leave or apply for unpaid leave, for employees who have used up their leave en tlements; or

  • other mutually agreed arrangements between the employers and employees/unions.page5image34320 page5image34480

 

Employers and employees have a joint duty to ensure that employees behave responsibly during the LOA period. MOM has reserved the right to take ac on against the employer or employee, if they fail to discharge their duty.

 

2. Quarantined Employees

 

A Home Quarantine Order (“HQO”) will be served by the MOH and employees served with a HQO will be deemed to be on paid hospitalisation leave for the duration of the HQO. For employees who have used up their paid hospitalisation leave, MOM has urged employers to exercise compassion and exibility by gran ng addi onal paid hospitalisa on leave, as the employees concerned may face hardship during this me.

 

3. Quarantine Facili es for Foreign Workers

 

There is no need for employers to provide suitable quaran ne facili es for foreign workers issued with Quaran ne Orders (“QO”) as they may be quaran ned at home or within their dormitory.

If their housing is assessed to be unsuitable, foreign workers will then be sent to a suitable quaran ne facility, which is centrally managed by the Government of Singapore.

 

4. Quarantine Order Allowance

 

MOH’s Quarantine Order Allowance (“QOA”) Scheme was set up on 29 January 2020 to mi gate the nancial impact for those who have been served with QO under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Persons who are self-employed, and employers who have employees issued with QO can make claims for SGD100 a day subject to the following condi ons:

 

5. Exhaustion of medical benefits

 

If an a ected employee has used up his medical bene ts provided for under the employment contract and/or collec ve agreement, MOM has urged employers to consider providing medical coverage as the employees concerned may face nancial hardship during this me.

 

6. Permanent incapacity or death

 

The Work Injury Compensa on Act (“WICA”), allows employees to make claims for permanent incapacity, if any, or death due to work-related injuries or diseases against employers without having to le a civil suit under common law.

 

MOM has clari ed that WICA covers all employees (except independent contractors, domes c workers and uniformed personnel) who contract diseases from biological agents, including COVID-19, arising from and in the course of work. However, WICA will not cover diseases due to COVID-19 if it was contracted through non-work ac vi es or exposure.

 

Self-employed

• Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident • Must show proof of employment
• Must not breach QO

Employers

• Registered company in Singapore
• Employees must be Singapore Ci zen, Permanent Residents or Workpass holders • Show proof of payment to employees when they are under quarantine
• Employees must not breach QO

May an employer request specific employees to stay away from the office or to work from home?

 

Yes, pursuant to the Guide on Business Con nuity Planning for 2019 novel coronavirus (“BCP”) issued by Enterprise Singapore or work from home policies. In its absence, the employer may exercise its managerial prerogative.

 

May an employer request employees to volunteer to take unpaid leave?

 

Yes, subject to contract/agreement between employer and employee.

 

MOM has also suggested unpaid leave arrangements for employees a ected by the COVID-19 situa on (i.e., employees placed on LOA or under a Quaran ne Order). However, the broad thrust of MOM’s advisories urge employers to take a compassionate approach and consider using other options rst, such as gran ng addi onal paid annual leave to employees placed on LOA, or additional paid hospitalisation leave for employees placed under a Quarantine Order.

Is an employer subject to any reporting obligations to the authorities?

 

Apart from the requirement to seek approval for its foreign workers who have travelled to mainland China within the last 14 days, there are no other obligations.

 

Based on the relevant advisories issued, neither MOM nor MOH have implemented any obliga ons for employers to report cases to the authori es.

 

What directives have been issued by your Government or Ministries to deal with COVID-19?

page7image15496

MOH Advisories

 

  1. (a)  Implementation of New Stay-Home Notice

  2. (b)  Advisory for Large-Scale Events Amidst the COVID-19 Situation (8 Feb 2020)

  3. (c)  Advisory for Healthcare Sector on the Wuhan Coronavirus (27 Jan 2020)

  4. (d)  Advisory for Individuals Sharing Residential Spaces with Persons on Leave of Absence (2 Feb 2020)

  5. (e)  Advisory for Persons Placed on Leave of Absence (1 Feb 2020)

  6. (f)  Advisory for Persons Placed on Leave of Absence (27 Jan 2020)

 

MOM Advisories

 

  1. (a)  Additional responsibilities to bring pass holders who have travelled to mainland China into Singapore from 18 Feb 2020, 2359 hours

  2. (b)  Advisory to foreign domestic workers and employers in view of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 situation

  3. (c)  General advisory for workplace measures in response to DORSCON Orange situa on in Singapore

  4. (d)  Advisory for employers and employees travelling to and from Mainland China in response to increase in cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

  5. (e)  General advisory for workplaces and frontline workers in response to confirmed cases of local transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Singapore

  6. (f)  Advisory to permit workers to enter their worksite

 

Monetary Authority of Singapore Advisories

 

(a) MAS Advises Financial Ins tu ons to Adopt Recommended Measures for DORSCON Orange

Immigration and Checkpoints Authority Advisories

 

(a) Updates on Border Control Measures in Response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)

 

National Environment Agency Advisories

 

  1. (a)  Interim Guidelines for Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection of Premises With Transient Exposure to Confirmed Cases(s) of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)

  2. (b)  Interim Guidelines for Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection of Areas Exposed to Confirmed Case(s) of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) in Non-Healthcare Commercial Premises

  3. (c)  Interim Guidelines for Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection in Residences That May Be Exposed to the COVID-19 Coronavirus Disease 2019)
    (d) Interim List of Household Products and Active Ingredients for Disinfection of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) (e) General Sanitation and Hygiene Advisory for Premises Owners and Operators

 

Ministry of Social and Family Development 

 

(a) Precautionary Measures for COVID-19 

 

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For more information, please contact:

 

Yong Hon Cheong, Partner, Zaid Ibrahim & Co (a member of ZICO Law)

hon.cheong.yong@zicolaw.com