Due to the evolving 2019 novel coronavirus (the "2019-nCoV") situation, the Ministry of Health (the "MOH") and the Ministry of Manpower (the "MOM") have issued several advisories which employers will need to be aware of.
These advisories set out measures including:
1. Rejection of New Work Pass Applications
The MOM will reject all new work pass applications for foreign workers from mainland China until further notice although renewal applications for existing work pass holders will not be affected.
2. Quarantine Orders
All returning employees with travel history to Hubei province within 14 days prior to arrival in Singapore, and returning permanent residents and long-term pass holders (including work passes, Dependant Passes and Long Term Visit Passes) with PRC passports issued in Hubei province, will be placed in quarantine pursuant to a Quarantine Order issued under the Infectious Diseases Act.
The MOH may also impose Quarantine Orders on those assessed to be a close contact of a confirmed 2019-nCOV case, which will include anyone who had either provided care to or who has had close physical contact to the confirmed case, or anyone who had stayed at the same place as the confirmed case, and will also further advise such individuals on the measures they should take. The MOM also has the right to instruct employers to disinfect workplaces exposed to any confirmed case of the 2019-nCoV.
Employees are deemed to be on paid hospitalization leave when complying with a Quarantine Order.
Employers can apply for a quarantine allowance from the Ministry of Health to mitigate the financial impact of such Quarantine Order. Failure to comply with such a Quarantine Order is an offence and in the case of a first offence, an employee could be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.
3. Leave of Absence
All employees arriving from mainland China (excluding Hubei province) will be required to take a leave of absence for 14 days (the "LOA") from the day of arrival in Singapore.
An employer must obtain the MOM's prior approval for a foreign employee to return to Singapore if such employee has travelled to mainland China within the last 14 days before arrival in Singapore. This request must be submitted to the MOM at least 3 days prior to the foreign employee's planned return to Singapore.
An employer is further required to inform affected employees that they will be placed on a LOA upon arrival in Singapore and shall also obtain the relevant foreign employee's signed written acknowledgement of the LOA. This written acknowledgement should be retained and submitted to the Controller of Work Passes if requested.
Employers are encouraged to permit employees on an LOA to work from home or to provide additional paid leave to such employees for the LOA period if it is not possible to work from home. Additionally, if the foregoing arrangements are not feasible, employers are also encouraged to consider permitting employees to utilize their leave entitlements such as hospitalisation leave, outpatient sick leave, annual leave, childcare or family care leave.
Further, while the LOA is a precautionary measure, employers and employees are strongly advised to comply with such LOA. The MOM reserves the right to take action against both the employer and the employee if they fail to discharge their respective duties. On 9 February 2020, it was announced that the MOM has revoked the work passes of four work pass holders and suspended the work pass privileges of six employers. The work pass holders were repatriated within 24 hours and banned permanently from working in Singapore while the six employers had their work pass privileges suspended for two years.
4. Health and Travel Declaration
Employers can also require all employees to provide a health and travel declaration to confirm whether they have travelled to mainland China or if they have upcoming plans to travel to mainland China.
Further, the MOM, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation have also issued an advisory to recommend appropriate workplace measures for employers to continue running their operations while minimizing the risk of community spread of the 2019-nCoV. The suggested measures include implementing Business Continuity Plans involving:
i. splitting team arrangements particularly frontline staff who can be deployed according to different work schedules or at different work sites whilst permitting backend staff to work from home. The teams should be physically segregated to avoid the risk of infection between teams with employers to cross-train employees and establish covering arrangements to minimise disruption;
ii. implementing measures to safeguard the well-being of their employees by, inter alia, requiring them to take their temperature regularly and at least twice daily and providing frontline staff with masks if they are taking temperatures of customers; and
iii. providing special attention to older employees, pregnant employees and employees who have underlying medical conditions in planning work operations or work schedules.
In summary, employers and employees should ensure that they work together to comply with the various obligations and advisories given the various penalties that may be imposed. Additionally, it is recommended that both employers and employees regularly check the MOM and the MOH websites for the latest updates and advisories and to adopt the recommended measures proposed therein.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.