COVID-19: Fine, jail for employers who don't allow telecommuting where possible

The new penalties were among updates made to the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA), which were published in the Government Gazette on Wednesday (1 April) night. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Employers who do not allow their staff to work from home where possible will now face a jail term of up to six months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Workers who show symptoms of COVID-19 – such as a cough, runny nose or fever – and still show up at work will face the same penalties. The penalties also apply to employers who compel staff members displaying symptoms to attend work as well as those who allow symptomatic staff to enter the workplace.

These new punishments were among updates made to the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA), which were published in the Government Gazette on Wednesday (1 April) night. The move comes as part of efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore.

Other amendments to the IDA include requiring employers to provide the appropriate facilities to allow all their staff to work from home “unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so”.

For those who still have to be present in a workplace, employers must also – as far as possible – take the following steps:

  • Ensure workers are split among two or groups to avoid or minimise physical interaction among workers

  • Stagger arrival and departure times for staff

  • Ensure there is a safe distance of at least 1 metre between any two workers within the workplace

  • Put in place safe distancing measures for areas of the workplace where people may congregate, such as pantries or waiting areas

Employers are also to cancel or postpone any activity that involves in-person interactions between workers, employers or other individuals. Exceptions to this ruling apply to activities critical to a business’ operations, as well as those involving vocational or professional training, or lessons by an educational institution.

Employers are also obligated to communicate all the latest measures to their workers and any other individuals that may come into contact with their workplace.

Occupiers of workplaces must also take the following steps:

  • Allow for natural ventilation of the workplace during working hours

  • Take the temperature of every person entering the workplace, as well as obtain and keep the contact details of each individual to facilitate contact tracing

  • Provide every employee who is found to be symptomatic with a face mask and require the person to leave the workplace immediately, or isolate the person

Workers who are feeling unwell or show symptoms of COVID-19 must report immediately to their employers. All staff must also comply with measures set out by their employers in accordance with the new regulations.

The same penalties – a jail term of up to six months and a possible fine of up to $10,000 – apply to those convicted of breaching any of the above regulations, which will stay in force from Thursday to 30 April.

At a multi-ministry taskforce press conference on Tuesday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that the government would be amending legislation to penalise companies that do not allow their workers to telecommute where possible.

In the speech, she highlighted that only 40 per cent of companies within the central business district had implemented telecommuting despite the government’s recommendations to do so.

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COVID-19: Singapore to penalise firms that don't implement telecommuting where possible