The Business Times

Companies can require Covid-19 vaccination only in high-risk settings: tripartite partners

Janice Heng
Published Fri, Jul 2, 2021 · 04:00 PM

EMPLOYERS should not make it mandatory for staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19, said a tripartite advisory issued on Friday.

This is in line with the national vaccination policy.

But employers can choose to require Covid-19 vaccination as a company policy for staff in certain high-risk settings. This could include aircrew, healthcare workers in contact with Covid-19 patients, and workers living in dormitories.

Even in such settings, however, no workers should have their employment terminated for declining to be vaccinated, said the advisory.

Issued by the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), the advisory provides guidance to employers and employees on Covid-19 vaccination in employment settings.

Employers should strongly encourage and facilitate staff to get vaccinated.

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This could be done by, for instance, granting paid time-off to do so and educating employees on vaccine safety and efficacy.

“Employees should do their part by choosing to get vaccinated, to protect themselves as well as others at the workplace,” said the advisory.

Employers may ask employees for their vaccination status for business purposes, such as business continuity planning. But staff who decline to be vaccinated should not be penalised.

In certain higher-risk employment settings, employers may choose to require Covid-19 vaccination as a company policy.

These include settings where staff face a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19, such as laboratory workers working on the virus; healthcare employees in regular contact with Covid-19 patients; aircrew; frontline maritime employees; and hotel employees in contact with people serving stay-home notices.

Another group is those in communal living environments, such as dormitories.

A third category is those where the work environment or nature does not allow for safe management measures to be effective or practicable. These include professional athletes in sports requiring close physical contact, and employees who are deployed to construction, marine, and process work sites.

A useful reference point in assessing whether an employment setting is higher risk, said the advisory, is whether employees are required to undergo rostered routine testing or mandated fast and easy testing, or whether they are in regular contact with known Covid-19 cases, or people who are isolated due to risk of Covid-19.

“Employers may also impose this vaccination requirement upfront at the point of recruitment or advertisement for new hires into these higher risk employment settings,” said the advisory.

In a Facebook post, SNEF said: "As implementing such a policy carries with it additional obligations, employers should consider the specific circumstances that they are faced with, and the implications before implementing such a policy."

The advisory sets out what to do in cases where employers require vaccination for such higher-risk settings, but an employee declines.

In this situation, the employer may – in consultation with the unions, if applicable – redeploy such an employee to a role with a lower risk of infection.

The employer may also recover Covid-19 related costs, such as testing or stay-home notice (SHN) accommodation, from the employee. And they may adopt a different leave policy, for instance by putting that employee on no-pay leave for any SHN served.

“Under no circumstances should an employer terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the ground of declining vaccination,” said the advisory.

MOM will investigate such incidents if reported, said Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Koh Poh Koon in a Facebook post.

Where Covid-19 vaccination is required by company policy, employers should provide affected employees with additional paid sick leave – beyond contractual or statutory requirements – to recover from any immediate adverse medical complications arising from vaccination.

Employees who are not medically eligible to receive the vaccine, or are not yet scheduled for vaccination, should be exempted from the vaccination requirement. Such staff may be redeployed, but cost recovery measures should not be imposed.

Employers who make Covid-19 vaccination a requirement should reassure employees that they will not be penalised or have their employment terminated if they decline vaccination, said the advisory.

They should explain why vaccination is needed, as well as the measures taken if employees decline. They should also explain what assistance will be offered if there are complications from vaccination, and “make reasonable efforts to find out why employees decline vaccination and address their concerns”.

In a Facebook post, NTUC assistant secretary-general Desmond Choo said: "Companies should work with unions to discuss alternative work arrangements for affected workers including redeployment plans for vulnerable workers or other work arrangements for example working from home."


  • HR firms favour encouraging, not mandating vaccines for staff
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