FAQ: what you need to know about going back to workplace from 28 Sept

Office workers wearing protective face masks walk in Singapore's central business district, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore, August 17, 2020.   REUTERS/Edgar Su
Office workers wearing protective face masks walk in Singapore's central business district. (PHOTO: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE — The multi-ministry taskforce for COVID-19 has announced that more employees may return to their workplaces from Monday (28 September), while work-related events in offices will also be allowed to assume.

While working from home remains the default mode of working, there will be more leeway for workers to return to their workplaces, provided they observe the updated requirements for safe management measures.

How does this affect you? Yahoo News Singapore answers some of your queries regarding this update:

Q: I wish to return to my office to work. Can I do so?

A: Working from home remains the default mode of working during this COVID-19 period. However, companies may allow their employees to return to their workplaces for no more than half of their working time. This should be calculated over a period of time not exceeding four weeks.

For example, if you work five days a week, you are allowed to go back to your office and work for a maximum of 2.5 days, subject to approval from your employer.

Q: If my employer tells me to return to office to work, can I refuse?

A: No, employers are permitted to direct employees to return to office. They are however encouraged to ensure that work-from-home arrangements remain implemented to enable employees to maintain work-life balance while continuing to meet business needs.

Companies should also continue to conduct virtual meetings as much as possible. They should also pay special attention to vulnerable employees (persons who are aged 60 and above, and patients who have weakened immune system or have concurrent medical conditions). This could be done by enabling them to work from home, or temporarily redeploying them to another role within the company.

Q: Does this mean that all of my colleagues will be back in office to work at the same time?

A: No, companies must ensure that no more than half of their employees are at the workplace at any point in time.

For example, if a company has 10 full-time employees, it can have only five of them back at the office on any day. Alternatively, if the company wants to allow all its employees to return to office, it can split the 10 employees into two teams of five, and have each team come into office on alternate weeks.

Q: What are the measures that my company and I should observe when I go back to work?

A: Companies must continue to ensure a clear spacing of at least one metre between each employee.

They must demarcate safe physical distances between all persons at meeting rooms, work areas and workstations, as well as during work-related events held at the workplace.

Employers must ensure good workplace safe-management measures, such as controlling access at the workplace, and cleaning common spaces regularly.

Employees should do their part in adhering to such measures, and wear face masks at all times at the workplace.

Q: I’m worried about having to commute during peak hours with large crowds. What can my company do?

A: There are several measures which companies can take to play their part in minimising crowding at common spaces such as public transport.

They can implement flexible workplace hours, so that their employees can work partly at home and partly at the workplace, so that they can travel outside of peak periods.

For example, employers can tell their employees to work in office from 10am to 4pm (avoiding the morning and evening peak hours), or from 1pm to 5pm (avoiding the morning peak hours). They can also tell employees to come to the workplace only for meetings, and work from home the rest of the time.

They can also stagger the reporting times of their employees, such that half of them start work later, for example at 10am instead of 9am.

Q: My company split its workforce into several teams at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Should this arrangement continue?

A: Yes, split teams or shift arrangements must continue to be implemented, with each team restricted to one worksite where possible. Employers must also ensure clear separation of employees on different teams or shifts.

Q: My company wants to hold a business conference. Is this allowed?

A: Yes, but it must be held within workplace premises. Business-oriented events – such as conferences, seminars, corporate retreats, annual general meetings and extraordinary general meetings – can resume, for up to 50 persons (or fewer depending on the venue).

These events must strictly observe safe-management measures, such as ensuring at least one metre of safe-distancing between employees.

Please note that work-related events at external venues is still not allowed at this juncture.

Q: My company wants to hold its annual dinner-and-dance event. Is this allowed?

A: No, employers must not organise or encourage large-scale social gatherings within or outside the workplace, such as parties, celebrations, team-bonding activities, dinner-and-dance events and gala dinners.

Q: My company is not observing safe-management measures and seating me too close to my colleagues. Is there an external party for me to sound out my concern?

A: Yes, the SnapSAFE app may be used to report any breach of the requirements at the workplace.

Employers should note that non-compliance with safe-management measures may result in penalties such as suspension of on-site operations, fines, and withholding of payouts for government support schemes and grants. More severe violations may result in prosecution.

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