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.
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:
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:
After foreign employees arrive in Singapore, the employer must:
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:
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.
• Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident • Must show proof of employment
• Registered company in Singapore
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?
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
Ministry of Social and Family Development
(a) Precautionary Measures for COVID-19
For more information, please contact:
Yong Hon Cheong, Partner, Zaid Ibrahim & Co (a member of ZICO Law)