Different, but the same.
We keep hearing people talk about how the pandemic has "disrupted" employment practices. While how we work and where we work has certainly changed and many things feel different in 2020, the truth is, the fundamentals of HR practice and employment laws haven't really changed at all – except that we are thinking more deeply about HR issues and applying the fundamentals in these somewhat unprecedented times. Please allow us to share some of our personal thoughts below.
1. Retrenchment with Dignity
Many jurisdictions have retrenchment laws; some do not. Companies going through tough times traditionally ask what they can or cannot do legally when carrying out a retrenchment exercise.
Singapore legislation is not prescriptive on retrenchment procedures. However, employers are starting to go beyond the minimum compliance position. Whether this is due to government pressure, industry expectations or internal protocol, there is a growing focus on the softer issues in a retrenchment exercise e.g. sensitive communication, managing the emotional impact of losing one's job, and providing support to the affected employees wherever possible.
For this reason, we see more employers – particularly in traditionally "light-touch" jurisdictions like Singapore – taking a more considered and balanced approach when carrying out retrenchment exercises.
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2. Employee Safety and Health
Employers have always had the longstanding duty of safeguarding their employee's safety and health under national legislation. This duty has come to the fore in the current pandemic.
From minimising contact and social distancing to daily temperature screening to COVID testing and vaccinations, employers are paying much more attention to the issue of employee safety and health.
There is much at stake. The failure to take the necessary safety management measures not only means regulatory non-compliance in many jurisdictions with lockdown measures or existing government directives, it could also mean exposure to claims in negligence and/or breach of contract by employees as well as significant reputational risks.
For these reasons, employers are likely to continue their conscientious approach towards employee safety and health.
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3. Employee Monitoring
Time tracking, performance management apps, daily check-ins with one's supervisors – these have become normal in many companies.
As long as employee monitoring is done judiciously, privacy concerns can be managed. From an employment law perspective, employee monitoring may be justified on the basis that employees need to ensure the integrity of their data and systems, protect their intellectual property and confidential information and measure productivity.
Whether working from home results in higher or lower productivity is debatable (with many employers seeing mixed results), but having clear work-from-home guidelines and policies are a must-have for any employer. As for employees, given that productivity is likely to be measured by output rather than attendance, they are likely to be driven to demonstrate more value in their work.
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4. Diversity, Inclusion, Respect and Fairness
"D&I" means different things in different places. For example, understanding and applying D&I principles in Asia would not be the same as in the U.S, due to differences in culture, politics and history.
Yet, few would disagree that employers should not discriminate based on age, gender, race, religion, marital status and family responsibilities or disability – this is actively discouraged in Singapore, notwithstanding the absence of hard discrimination laws.
Global employers are embracing these concepts as a business imperative. Although employers in different jurisdictions are at different points of their journey in building a fair and ethical workplace, the trend is set to continue in this direction.
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As 2020 draws to a close, we would like to wish all our clients and friends a Happy New Year. May 2021 bring cheer to all and greater positive change.
Originally Published by Bird & Bird ATMD LLP
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.