Unvaccinated but medically eligible staff from some sectors may bear COVID costs

·Editorial Team
·3 min read
People look at the skyline of the central business district from the Skybridge of The Pinnacles at Duxton public housing estate in Singapore April 25, 2013. Banks in Singapore are urgently scrutinising their account holders as an imminent deadline on stricter tax evasion measures forces them to decide whether to send some of their wealthiest clients packing. The Southeast Asian city-state has grown into the world's fourth-biggest offshore financial centre but, with U.S. and European regulators on the hunt for tax cheats, the government is clamping down to forestall the kind of onslaught from foreign authorities that is now hitting Switzerland's banks. Before July 1, all financial institutions in Singapore must identify accounts they strongly suspect hold proceeds of fraudulent or wilful tax evasion and, where necessary, close them. After that, handling the proceeds of tax crimes will be a criminal offence under changes to the city-state's anti-money laundering law. Picture taken April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: CITYSCAPE BUSINESS)
(Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — Unvaccinated employees in Singapore from certain sectors who are medically eligible to take COVID-19 shots may have to bear certain COVID-19 related expenses, according to guidelines issued by the city-state's tripartite partners.

Such expenses that employers can require their staff to bear include cost of test kits or stay-home notice accommodation that are incurred over and above those for vaccinated employees, based on the guidelines by Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) issued on Monday (23 August).

The guidelines are applicable to sectors subjected to the ‘Vaccinate or Regular Test’ regime from 1 October onwards including healthcare, eldercare, settings with children 12 years and below, sectors in higher-risk mask-off settings such as food and beverage establishments, gyms and personal care services, and the public service sector.

Unvaccinated employees can be subject to additional COVID-19 tests compared to vaccinated employees, and tests before participating in workplace events. Employers can also implement reduced group sizes when unvaccinated employees participate in such events, especially those involving mask-off activities.

The guidelines in a new advisory, which supersede a previous advisory issued on 2 July, urge employers to consider adopting a regime for existing employees and new hires to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular tests.

Under the regime, employers may, in consultation with the unions, adopt differentiated workplace measures for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees in their workforce.

In addition, they can require that the additional days a medically eligible but unvaccinated employee has to serve due to longer periods of movement restrictions, be taken from existing leave entitlements.

"If leave entitlements have been exhausted, employers may require such an employee to go on no-pay leave," added the advisory.

Employers may also choose to exclude these employees from medical benefits associated with COVID-19, such as insurance coverage.

No threat of termination based on vaccination status

However, the advisory stressed that "under no circumstances should an employer terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the basis of vaccination status alone".

Employers should also not place employees on no-pay leave for an extended duration without their mutual consent in writing, it added, though they may exercise their right to contractually terminate employment if unvaccinated employees do not comply with reasonable vaccination-differentiated workplace measures.

The advisory said that employers should take steps to prepare their workforce early in the lead-up to the new regime. 

Employers may ask employees for their vaccination status for business purposes. Those adopting the regime can further require employees to produce proof of vaccination. 

Employees who refuse to do so would be treated as unvaccinated for the purposes of the vaccination-differentiated measures and subject to additional bearing of cost, the advisory said.

"Employers should urge all their medically eligible employees who have yet to be vaccinated to do so, and implement public education programmes on vaccine safety and efficacy for their employees," it added.

Employers should also facilitate vaccination by granting paid time-off to employees for COVID-19 vaccination, and additional paid sick leave – beyond contractual or statutory requirement – in the rare event that the employee experiences a vaccine-related adverse event, the advisory noted.

As of 16 August, almost 90 per cent of Singapore’s adult population have received at least the first dose of COVID-19 vaccination under the national vaccination programme.

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