Asia-Pacific employment law bulletin 2022
Developments in the light of COVID-19
With approximately 98% of the total workforce fully vaccinated at the time of writing, the Singapore government has announced that only vaccinated individuals are allowed to return to the office from 1 January 2022 onwards. Those not vaccinated will have to work from home. If working from home is not possible, an employer could redeploy such individuals, place them on no-pay leave, or terminate their employment with notice. It was also stipulated that if the termination is due to the employees’ inability to be at the workplace to perform their contracted work, the termination would not be considered wrongful.
However, certain exceptions apply. Employees who are certified to be medically ineligible to receive a vaccine, or who have recovered from COVID-19 within the last 180 days, can also return to the workplace.
The introduction of booster shot is also set to change the definition of those ‘fully vaccinated’ in Singapore. In late 2021, Singapore’s health minster stated that the ‘fully vaccinated’ status of individuals who have taken two doses of the mRNA vaccines, or three doses of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, would lapse unless a booster shot is taken.
It has been announced that 50% of employees who can work from home will be allowed to return to the office. Previously, work from home was the default mode of working for the majority of 2021.
Upcoming legislative changes
In recent years, there has also been increased attention on the issue of workplace discrimination, particularly in relation to gig-economy workers and freelancers. These issues are now set to take centre-stage as Singapore’s Prime Minister has announced in August 2021 that: (a) present non-binding advisories and guidelines issued by the Tripartite Alliance of Fair and Progressive Employment Practices will be enshrined in law; (b) a new workplace discrimination tribunal will be set up; and (c) the government is looking into granting gig-economy workers basic rights in relation to retirement, trade union representation, and workplace injury compensation.
These legislative changes may come into force in the course of 2022.
Employment of migrant workers
Requirements for hiring foreigners in Singapore are also expected to become progressively more stringent, with the criteria for assessing work pass applications continuing to tighten over time. For Employment Passes in particular (for foreign professionals, managers and executives), the Singapore government has said it is considering a revision of the pass application review process to include a more transparent points assessment system, factoring sectoral input, the hiring and development of local workers, and the diversity of nationalities within the employer. Further changes should therefore also be expected in this area.