Only vaccinated employees can return to Singapore’s workplaces
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Marina Bay Financial Centre
Shani Alexander
Shani Alexander, Senior reporter

In an effort to open up its society and return to normality, the Singapore government has decreed that, from 1 January 2022, all employees must be vaccinated or have recovered from covid-19 within the past 270 days before they can return to their place of work.

The Ministry of Health says unvaccinated employees will not be allowed to return to their workplace unless they can produce daily negative tests from a government-approved test provider.

“There aren’t any exemptions to the three criteria,” says Clarence Ding, of counsel in Simmons & Simmons’ labour and employment practice. “The only way to go back to the office is if you’re vaccinated, you’ve recovered from Covid in the last 270 days, or you produce a negative test.”

For Singapore, the vaccination of its workforce is the path back to normality. Currently, 70% of businesses have a completely vaccinated workforce. In total, 96% of employees across the country have now been jabbed. Nevertheless, there are around 113,000 employees who have yet to be vaccinated and only a small proportion of those are medically ineligible for vaccination.

Zhao Yang Ng, local principal in Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow’s employment team, says the controversial decision by the Lion City was not unexpected.

“This latest move is a natural progression of the Singapore government's strategy to live with covid-19. The Singapore government is hoping that through these latest measures, employees who do not have any medical reason not to get vaccinated will be pushed to get vaccinated,” he says.

“However, one criticism regarding this latest guideline is that this is a very draconian measure effectively making vaccinations compulsory. This is despite reassurances from the Singapore government at the start of the vaccine programme that vaccination will not be mandatory,” Ng added.

The government said that a fully vaccinated workforce will be able to operate more safely and at much lower risk to employees’ lives. “We must also be prepared to take stronger steps to protect those who, due to medical reasons, cannot receive any vaccine,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

...this is a very draconian measure effectively making vaccinations compulsory

Singapore is urging the remaining 30% of employers to make a concerted push to get their unvaccinated employees vaccinated as soon as possible. According to the government, an employer can request its employees show their vaccination status through the country’s TraceTogether app and token, HealthHub app, or physical vaccination card. If an employee refuses to disclose their vaccination status, they may be treated as unvaccinated.

“If an employee refuses to get vaccinated, or refuses to take a test, that employee cannot enter the office and must work from home. But that in itself can have long-term consequences,” says Ding, adding that an employer must take into account that an employee is away from the office when undertaking employee evaluations.

“Additionally, if the job requires the employee to be in the office and they haven’t been vaccinated, then they could redeploy them, put them on unpaid leave, and [eventually terminate them]. In those circumstances, termination is not unlawful,” Ding continues.

Ng adds: “The guidelines also go so far as to say that if employers terminate their unvaccinated employees due to their inability to perform their work, such termination would not be considered as wrongful dismissal.

“Previously the guidelines stated that as far as possible employers should not dismiss employees for not being vaccinated, accordingly this change in position drives home the point that the Singapore government is trying its best to get as many persons vaccinated without having to resort to making vaccination mandatory.”

Singapore is not the only country mandating workplace vaccinations. Malaysia has decreed that all government employees must be vaccinated to boost public confidence, while civil servants in Hong Kong must be vaccinated or get regular testing.

In Europe, the Italian government recently introduced measures requiring workers to have a so-called green pass, while around 3,000 French healthcare workers have been suspended without pay for refusing to get a covid shot.

In the US, federal guidance is forthcoming after President Biden mandated that federal employees and workers at large US companies be vaccinated.