As part of Singapore’s move towards living with COVID-19 as an endemic disease, the country has been making efforts to re-open its economy. In order to facilitate the safe re-opening of the economy, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (“TAFEP”) have collectively issued guidance for employers on the COVID-19 measures to be implemented at the workplace from 1 January 2022, which was recently updated on 27 December 2021 in light of the emergence of the Omicron variant (the “MOM Guidance”)[1].

This post considers the MOM Guidance and other related guidance issued by the Ministry of Health (“MOH”) and associated data privacy considerations under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (“PDPA”).

Work from home no longer the default from 1 January 2022

Work from home will no longer be the default working arrangement come 1 January 2022, as the MOM Guidance provides for the following workplace vaccination measures as part of the Singapore’s plan to re-open the country safely (subject to further changes based on the prevailing COVID-19 situation):

  • Phase 1 (1 January 2022 – 14 January 2022): Employers can allow the following employees to return to the workplace: (i) fully vaccinated employees[2], including employees who have recovered from COVID-19 within the past 180 days; (ii) employees who are certified to be medically ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines under the National Vaccination Program (“NVP”); and (ii) unvaccinated employees who have tested negative for COVID-19 Pre-Event Test (“PET”) within 24 hours of returning to the workplace[3]. Unvaccinated employees will have to pay for the costs of the PET and show the PET results to their employers when reporting to the workplace.
  • Phase 2 (15 January 2022 onwards): Only employees who are fully vaccinated, certified to be medically ineligible or have recovered from COVID-19 within 180 days, can return to the workplace. Unvaccinated employees will no longer be allowed to perform a PET in lieu of being fully vaccinated, i.e., they will no longer be permitted to return to the workplace. Partially vaccinated employees will still be allowed at workplaces with a negative PET up to 31 January 2022, after which they must be fully vaccinated.

These measures reflect a further tightening of previously announced workplace vaccination measures, in a bid to protect Singapore’s healthcare capacity in light of the emergence of the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Differentiated measures amongst unvaccinated employees

The MOM Guidance also provides for differentiated measures amongst unvaccinated employees i.e., unvaccinated employees who are medically eligible to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine on one hand, and unvaccinated employees who are not medically eligible to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine on the other.

Unvaccinated employees who are medically eligible to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine under the NVP

The MOM Guidance provides that in respect of unvaccinated employees who are medically eligible to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine under the NVP,  employers can allow them to continue working from home. However, when conducting performance assessments, employers are entitled to take into account the employee’s absence from the workplace and the effect of such absence on individual performance and team performance.

In respect of such unvaccinated employees whose job function requires them to work on-site, employers have the discretion to take any of the following measures:

  • redeploy employees to suitable jobs which can be done from home, with remuneration commensurate with the responsibilities of the alternative jobs;
  • place employees on no-pay leave on mutually agreeable terms; or
  • as a last resort, terminate their employment (with notice) in accordance with the employment contract.

Notably, MOM has clarified that if an unvaccinated employee who is medically eligible to be vaccinated is terminated due to that employee’s inability to be at the workplace to perform their contracted work, such termination of employment would not be considered as wrongful dismissal.

However, the MOM Guidance provides that employees should not terminate pregnant employees who are unvaccinated but medically eligible for the approved COVID-19 vaccines under the NVP. Instead, employers are urged to give special consideration to such employees, by extending support measures such as no-pay leave or redeployment to suitable jobs until after the pregnant employee has delivered. In this regard, the MOM Guidance also makes clear that no-pay leave granted to such employees should not affect their right to maternity benefit provided as a matter of law, contract or collective agreements.

Unvaccinated employees who are not medically eligible to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine under the NVP

Unlike employees who are medically eligible for approved COVID-19 vaccines under the NVP, employees who are certified to be medically ineligible for vaccines under the NVP are allowed to work on-site. However, employers are urged to consider the following measures in respect of such employees:

  • For employees whose job function allows them to work from home, employers can allow them to continue working from home. The employees’ absence from the workplace should not affect the employer’s assessment of their performance.

For employees whose job function requires them to work on-site, employers have the discretion to redeploy employees to suitable jobs which can be done from home, with remuneration commensurate with the responsibilities of the alternative jobs. If redeployment is not possible, employers should allow employees to work on-site where necessary.

Employers should facilitate vaccination of unvaccinated employees

The MOM Guidance further provides that employers should facilitate the vaccination of its unvaccinated employees by offering incentives, namely (i) granting paid time-off to employees for their vaccination (including vaccination booster shots) and (ii) granting additional paid sick leave (beyond contractual or statutory requirement) in the rare event that the employee experiences a vaccine-related adverse reaction.

Obtaining employees’ vaccination status

The differentiated measures under the MOM Guidance are premised on drawing a distinction between vaccinated employees and unvaccinated employees. In order to enable employers to identify unvaccinated employees, the MOM Guidance provides that employers may ask employees for their vaccination status and proof of such vaccination. If employees refuse to furnish any such information, employers may treat them as unvaccinated.

It is important for employers to note that, when collecting and using such data (i.e. an employee’s particulars and vaccination status), employers must comply with the provisions of the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (“PDPA”), given that such data relates to the identification of an individual and falls within the definition of “personal data” under the PDPA.[4]

In particular, employers must obtain their employees’ informed consent prior to the collection, use and disclosure of their personal data[5], unless an exception exists in the PDPA or it is required or authorised under any other written law,  and develop and implement reasonable security arrangements to protect such personal data from unauthorized access, collection, use, disclosure, copying, modification, disposal or similar risks.[6]

COVID-19 vaccination to be a condition for long-term passes, work passes and permanent residence from 1 February 2022

In October 2021, it was announced that with effect from 1 November 2021, all work pass holders and their dependents must be fully vaccinated before arrival in Singapore.[7] This requirement was further tightened on 26 December 2021, when MOH announced that with effect from 1 February 2022, COVID-19 vaccination will be a condition for the approval or grant of new long-term passes, work passes, as well as permanent residence.[8] This requirement will also apply to renewals of existing work passes.

Further, at the point of application for work passes, employers are required to make a declaration that their work pass holders and their dependent(s) are fully vaccinated upon arrival in Singapore.[9]  Work pass holders are also required to submit or present their vaccination certificates as part of the verification process.

However, this vaccination condition does not apply to the following groups of individuals: (a) individuals below 12 years old; (b) individuals aged 12 to below 18 years old – they can continue to make a declaration to complete the full vaccination regimen after arriving in Singapore; (c) work pass holders who are medically ineligible for vaccination, provided they submit a doctor’s memo at the point of application, and undergo a medical review upon arrival in Singapore.

Therefore, employers should keep in mind such vaccination requirements before seeking to employ or relocate foreign employees in Singapore.

[1] See the following MOM advisories; and Requirements for Safe Management Measures at the workplace (mom.gov.sg)

[2] An individual will be considered fully vaccinated either (i) 2 weeks after he/she has received the full regimen of Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty, Moderna, or any World Health Organisation’s Emergency Use Listing (WHO EUL) vaccines; or (ii) 2 weeks after he/she has received one dose of Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty or Moderna vaccines, upon recovery from COVID-19.

[3] Unvaccinated employees must take a PET at an MOH-approved COVID-19 test provider. The list of MOH-approved COVID-19 test providers can be found at: MOH | Regulations, Guidelines and Circulars. The validity period of a negative COVID-19 test result is 24 hours from the time the unvaccinated employee was registered at the testing premises to take the test.

[4] “Personal data” is defined under Section 2 of the PDPA to include “data, whether true or not, about an individual who can be identified (a) from that data; or (b) from that data and other information to which the organisation has or is likely to have access.

[5] Sections 13 to 15 of the PDPA. “Informed consent” means that the employee has been informed by the employer of the purpose for the collection, use and disclosure of his/her personal data, pursuant to Section 20 of the PDPA.

[6] Section 24 of the PDPA.

[7] See MOM advisory dated 5 October 2021

[8] See MOM press release dated 26 December 2021

[9] See Annex A to MOM press release dated 26 December 2021

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