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Employers can make COVID-19 vaccination a requirement for workers in higher risk settings: Tripartite partners

Employers can make COVID-19 vaccination a requirement for workers in higher risk settings: Tripartite partners

FILE PHOTO: A nurse prepares to vaccinate healthcare workers at Gleneagles hospital, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

SINGAPORE: People working in certain employment settings where there is higher risk of COVID-19 infection can be required by their employers to get vaccinated, according to new guidelines by Singapore's tripartite partners released on Friday (Jul 2).

Employees who decline vaccination can be redeployed to lower risk settings, or be asked to cover the difference in coronavirus-related costs incurred by them compared to vaccinated employees.

However, saying no to the jab should not be grounds for termination.

The advisory on COVID-19 vaccination in employment settings was issued by the tripartite partners - the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) - and the Ministry of Health (MOH).

In general, employers should not make COVID-19 inoculation mandatory, in line with the national vaccination policy, stated the advisory.

Employers should still strongly encourage and facilitate vaccinations for all medically eligible employees, such as by granting paid time-off for the jab, stated the advisory.

READ: Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination rates ‘not high enough’ to provide sufficient protection - Lawrence Wong

They may also ask employees about their vaccination status for business purposes, such as business continuity planning.

"Employees who decline vaccination should not be penalised such as having their employment terminated on the ground of declining vaccination," said the tripartite partners.

However, there was a "small and exceptional number" of employment settings where some employees may be exposed to higher risk of infection due to working or living conditions.

"To ensure the health and safety of employees and to minimise the risk of outbreaks, employers may, if they wish to do so, require COVID-19 vaccination as a company policy for these higher risk employment settings," said the partners.

Employers may impose the vaccination requirement upfront at the point of recruitment or advertisement for new hires into such settings, they added.

READ: Singapore to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination programme, increasing daily doses by 70%

HIGHER RISK EMPLOYMENT SETTINGS

The advisory identified three categories of such higher risk employment settings.

The first involved work environments where employees are exposed to significantly higher risk of infection than in the general community. Examples included healthcare workers, aircrew and hotel employees in contact with people serving stay-home notice.

The second category involved employees staying in communal living environments, where safe management measures may not be practised effectively. This covered employees living in dormitories.

(Table: MOH, MOM, NTUC, SNEF)

The third category involved a work environment or work of such a nature that does not allow safe management measures to be practised effectively, such as due to activities requiring masks to be removed frequently or high density workplaces.

Examples in this category included professional athletes in close contact sports and employees in the construction, marine and process (CMP) sectors.

READ: Singapore to vaccinate migrant workers against COVID-19, starting with 10,000 dormitory residents

As a reference point for assessing higher risk settings, employers could look at whether their employees were required to undergo rostered routine testing or fast and easy testing, or were in regular contact with known COVID-19 cases or people in isolation, stated the advisory.

Currently, rostered routine testing is required for all workers from the CMP sectors and who go to work sites, workers from the manufacturing and services sectors staying in certain residences and dormitory operations staff, among others.

Fast and easy testing is required for employees working in dine-in food and beverage establishments, personal care services, and gyms and fitness studios.

EMPLOYEES WHO DECLINE VACCINATION

Employers wishing to require vaccination can redeploy employees who decline vaccination to another job with lower risk of infection, stated the advisory. The job should be commensurate with the employee's experience and skills.

Employers can also recover coronavirus-related costs incurred by employees who decline vaccination that are over and above costs incurred by vaccinated employees. Examples include costs related to testing and stay-home notice accommodation. 

READ: Work-from-home to remain as default; Jobs Support Scheme extended to July

Employers can also adopt a differentiated leave policy for vaccinated employees and employees who decline vaccination. For example, they can put the latter on no-pay leave during stay-home notice, stated the advisory.

However, declining vaccination should never be grounds for termination, said the partners.

"Under no circumstances should an employer terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the ground of declining vaccination," they stressed.

Employees who are medically unsuitable for vaccination should be exempt from any requirement to take the jab, added the advisory. Employers can decide whether to redeploy them to lower risk settings.

READ: COVID-19 task force shares broad plan for new normal with possible home recovery and travel

In addition, employers who require vaccination should provide employees with additional paid sick leave to support their recovery from any adverse complications arising from vaccination.

Employers were also expected to make "reasonable efforts" to find out why employees decline vaccination and address their concerns, stated the advisory.

The partners also reminded employers and employees to continue observing safe management measures at workplaces even after vaccination.

They added that employees should do their part by choosing to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others in the workplace.

"The collective protection from vaccination will be more effective when more people are vaccinated. In the event of a fresh outbreak, the number of cases can be kept low," said the partners.

"This will minimise the stress on the healthcare system, ensure that those who are ill get the treatment they need, and allow Singapore to return to normalcy sooner."

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Source: CNA/dv(ac)

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