Singapore: Advisories and Legal Updates for Employers Regarding Covid-19

Singapore: Advisories and Legal Updates for Employers Regarding Covid-19

A string of new measures has been released across Singapore, these include updates for those with a second job arrangement, a telecommuting reminder and support for SMEs affected by coronavirus.

Second Job Arrangements

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has advised employers to support employees with reduced hours by allowing them to take on a second job in order to make up for lost income. This move will help mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on their livelihood.

MOM shared a guide on second job arrangements for employees with reduced hours due to Covid-19, which stated:

Employees can take on a second job, unless there are:

  • Prohibitions in their current employment contract from taking on other forms of work; and/or
  • Conflict of interest with their current employment

If one or both of the above are present, and the employee still wishes to take up a second job to supplement their reduced income, the employee should discuss and clarify with both employers should there be conflict of interest or conflict in work scheduling. Employers should also be considerate and supportive of employees’ circumstances at this time and are encouraged to waive contractual prohibitions against taking on a second job and help employees resolve conflicts of interest where possible.

Employees should also make sure they are capable of taking on both jobs without compromising the interests of each employer and be transparent in terms of the requirements of both jobs to their employers.

More information can be found here.

Telecommuting Fines and Penalties

On 31 March 2020, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo, announced that MOM is looking to issue fines and other penalties to businesses who do not organise flexible working arrangements, potentially leading to the further spread of coronavirus.

Before issuing penalties, an organisations specific circumstances will be looked at to determine if telecommuting is really not possible. Teo stated: “If the company is really not taking it seriously at all, then we have no choice and will not hesitate to issue a stop-work order,” adding that the duration of such an order would depend on factors such as the severity of the case.

For certain sectors, such as manufacturing, it is not possible to implement the work-from-home arrangement, therefore other measures should be taken. Safe distancing measures should be applied by staff when interacting with others, including external stakeholders such as customers and suppliers. Teo also recommended introducing staggered working hours so that employees arrive and leave work at different times.

MOM also plans to have more than 100 officers check on companies who have not implemented flexible work arrangements, a five-fold increase from the current figure.

New Legislation on the Holding of Meetings to Be Introduced

On 27 March 2020, the Infectious Diseases (Measures to Prevent Spread of COVID-19) Regulations 2020 (Regulations) came into effect.

Under the new regulations, certain activities and events are prohibited altogether while attendance for non-prohibited events (including meetings) is limited to 10 people. All meetings must be held in accordance with the prevailing regulations issued to implement safe distancing measures.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of Law (MOL) released a joint press release, noting that the government is aware that certain provisions in written law and some legal instruments provide for personal attendance at meetings.

The government will introduce new legislation at the next sitting of Parliament (scheduled to take place on or around 7 April 2020) to provide legal certainty on the holding of such meetings. Subject to Parliaments approval, the proposed provision will:

Allow alternative arrangements to be prescribed where:

  • Personal attendance at a meeting or class of meetings is provided for in any written law or legal instrument;
  • It is inexpedient or impracticable for the meeting or class of meetings to be convened, held or conducted in the manner provided for in the written law or legal instrument, in view of the prevailing Regulations; and

Provide that meetings held or deferred, on or after 27 March 2020, in accordance with the prescribed alternative arrangements will be deemed to satisfy the relevant requirements under written law or legal instrument, despite anything to the contrary in any law or legal instrument.

If the new proposed provisions are passed, it is intended that they will be brought into force as soon as possible.

More information can be found here.

New Measures Implemented to Help Small and Medium Sized Businesses

On 31 March 2020, a package of measures was announced to help ease the financial strain on individuals and SMEs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Singapore financial industry have collaborated to produce a package of financial measures. The package complements the initiatives already set out in the Government’s Unity Budget and Resilience Budget to preserve jobs and support businesses and households.

The package comprises of three components:

  1. help individuals meet their loan and insurance commitments;
  2. support SMEs with continued access to bank credit and insurance cover; and
  3. ensure interbank funding markets remain liquid and well-functioning.

Relief for individuals and SMEs will be provided on an opt-in basis, as cashflow circumstances will differ. Deferring payments increases future obligations and hence borrowers and policyholders should weigh their options carefully. Financial institutions will process all applications expeditiously.

More information can be found here.

Solidarity Budget

On 6 April 2020, the government announced the Solidarity Budget to help during the ‘Circuit Breaker’ period from 7 April to 5 May (this has now been extended until 1 June). Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat stated: “The primary aim of this Solidarity Budget is to take further steps to save jobs and protect the livelihoods of our people during this temporary period of heightened measures.”

Further enhancements to the Job Support Scheme

  • The Government will pay 75% of the first $4,600 of monthly salaries for all local employees for April 2020
  • First JSS payout brought forward from May to April
  • From May 2020, wage subsidy levels will revert to what was announced in the Resilience Budget

More Self-Employed Persons (SEPs) to receive help

  • More SEPs to qualify for SEP Income Relief Scheme (SIRS)
  1. To include all who also earn a small income from employment work
  2. Raise the Annual Value threshold from up to $13,000 to up to $21,000
  • A total of about 100,000 SEPs will receive three quarterly cash payouts of $3000 each, starting from May 2020

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