SINGAPORE — From next Monday (28 September), more employees may return to their workplaces, while work-related events in offices will be allowed to assume.
These changes are part of the updated requirements for safe management measures (SMM) at the workplace made by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce announced on Wednesday.
While working from home remains the default mode of working, authorities will allow more employees to return to the workplaces, said Education Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong, who was speaking at a virtual press briefing.
But employers must ensure that such employees continue to work from home for at least half of their working time, and no more than half of such employees are at the workplace at any point in time, he added.
“We also want employers to do their part to minimise crowding and congregation at common spaces, in particular, at our public transport. So we also call on employers to implement flexible work arrangements for their employees who are returning to work,” said Wong.
He added that employers should implement flexible workplace hours to allow employees to work partly at home and partly at the workplace. For instance, allowing them to work from 10am to 4pm or 1pm to 5pm in-office hours will ensure that they travel outside of peak periods.
Employers can also arrange for them to return to the workplace only for meetings and work-from-home the rest of the time, and they should further stagger reporting times such that half of all employees start work at or after 10am. “It doesn't have to be such a binary arrangement,” said Wong.
Split-team or shift arrangements are to continue, with each team restricted to one worksite where possible, and for employers to ensure clear separation of employees on different teams or shifts.
“This update has been carefully considered to balance the concerns of employers regarding the impact of extended periods of working-from-home on productivity and workplace relations, while creating safe workplaces for employees,” the taskforce said in a press release on Wednesday.
“This will also support employees who face particular difficulty working-from-home. As these measures will need to be in place for some time, we encourage employers to ensure that work-from-home arrangements are implemented in a sustainable manner to enable employees to maintain work-life balance while continuing to meet business needs.”
Work-related events within workplaces allowed to resume
Work-related events within the workplace premises that are business-oriented – such as conferences, seminars, corporate retreats, annual general and extraordinary general meetings – will be allowed to resume, for up to 50 persons with strict adherence to safe management measures.
The resumption of work-related events at external venues will be considered at a later date, while rules on, for example, staff having their meals at staff canteens will be updated, taking reference from prevailing national guidelines. More details will be released by the MOM later.
Wong stressed, “So anything that's work-related, can resume subject to prevailing safe management measures at the workplace. But large scale social gatherings should not be organised either within the workplace or outside.”
Employers must not organise or encourage larger-scale social gatherings such as parties, celebrations, team bonding activities, dinner-and-dance, and gala dinners.
To reduce the risk of transmission with the gradual resumption of activities, employers must continue to ensure clear physical spacing of at least 1 metre and demarcate safe physical distances.
These include between all persons at meeting rooms, work areas, and workstations, and at all times during work-related events held at the workplace.
“The tripartite partners – MOM, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) will continue to review the requirements periodically to take further developments into account, such as updated medical advice, technological updates and operational practices,” said the taskforce.
“These updates will help employers to keep workplaces safe amidst the fluid COVID-19 situation, while streamlining processes where possible.”
Non-compliance with safe management measure may result in penalties such as suspension of on-site operations, fines, and withholding of payouts for government support schemes and grants, while more severe violations may result in prosecution.
The SnapSAFE app may continue to be used to report any breach of the requirements at the workplace, said the taskforce.
“If all goes well, if we can continue to maintain this level of compliance and we can continue to control the infection well, then we will be able to continue with this path of resuming and opening up our economy and our society steadily. We are already working out the roadmap towards Phase 3,” said Wong.
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