COVID: Staff who reject vaccination should not be penalised – MOM, SNEF, NTUC

Singapore central business district. (REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo)
(Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE —Employees in Singapore who decline to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should not be penalised, such as having their employment terminated, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on Friday (2 July).

This is in line with the national policy of non-mandatory vaccination against the illness.

This guideline and others were outlined in an advisory jointly issued by the tripartite partners to provide guidance for both employers and employees regarding the vaccination in employment settings.

However, the advisory noted that employers should strongly encourage and facilitate all their medically eligible employees to get vaccinated. It also stressed that employees should do their part by getting vaccinated, to protect themselves as well as others at the workplace.

Some measures employers can implement include granting paid time-off to employees for COVID-19 vaccination, and facilitating public education programmes on vaccine safety and efficacy for their employees. Employers may also ask employees for their vaccination status for business purposes, such as for business continuity planning.

However, for those in small and exceptional number of employment settings who may be exposed to a higher risk of COVID-19, employers may, if they wish to do so, require COVID-19 vaccination as a company policy, said the advisory,

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

Employers who wish to require COVID-19 vaccination for the higher risk employment settings may, in consultation with the unions, adopt certain measures for employees in these settings who decline vaccination.

These include redeploying them to another job with a lower risk of COVID-19 infection that is commensurate with the employee’s experience and skills, as per existing redeployment policies.

"If there are no existing redeployment policies within the organisation, the terms and conditions for redeployment should be mutually agreed between employers and employees," the advisory added.

Employers can also recover COVID-19 related costs – incurred by the employer from employees who declined vaccination – that are over and above the costs incurred for vaccinated employees in similar employment settings.

These costs can be recovered either through salary deductions or requiring the employee to pay the relevant service provider directly, it said. Employers may adopt a differentiated leave policy for vaccinated employees versus employees who decline vaccination such as putting the latter on no-pay leave for the duration of any stay-home notice served.

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

If employers adopt a company policy of requiring COVID-19 vaccination for higher-risk employment settings, they should provide affected employees with additional paid sick leave – beyond contractual or statutory requirements – to support their recovery from any immediate adverse medical complications arising from vaccination.

Employers should also exempt employees who belong to groups identified by the Ministry of Health (MOH) as not suitable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or are not scheduled for vaccination yet.

"To reduce the risk of infection at the workplace, employers may decide whether to redeploy these employees. However, employers should not impose cost recovery measures if such employees decline the redeployment offer," said the advisory.

Employers who make vaccination a requirement in their company policy are expected to "communicate clearly to affected employees...and make reasonable efforts to find out why employees decline vaccination and address their concerns", it added.

"Vaccination significantly strengthens our defences against COVID-19," said the advisory.

"However, it is still important for employers and employees, including those who are vaccinated, to continue observing the safe management measures at workplaces, such as mask-wearing and where required, donning of personal protective equipment."

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo in a Facebook post on Friday afternoon noted that employers and employees must maintain constant and transparent communication so as to build workplace resilience.

"We have a social responsibility in keeping each other safe. Let us get vaccinated if we have a chance to. The speed at which we can recover from the pandemic, depends on our collective resolve," he added.

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