The Straits Times says

Let employees decide on leave donation

Annual leave that is unused is a sign of the times today. This guaranteed period of rest has been a staple of organised labour relations here, as it is in many other countries. However, the exigencies of service in many productive and competitive environments have often resulted in situations where employees are too preoccupied to consume all of their leave entitlement. Carrying over or encashing unused leave, where possible, are equitable options that some companies allow so their employees do not lose their entitlements. Such trends have been exacerbated in these unusual times. With travel restrictions in place and working from home being the default for many companies, many Singaporeans have been unable to fully use up their leave this year. Yet the changed work environment, economic uncertainty and dislocation caused by Covid-19 have spawned worries and pressures that make time-out from work an important necessity for them.

For some entities and companies, the current times have also created a novel opportunity to do good, exercise social responsibility and show charity. This has included turning unused leave into social capital by, for example, letting staff convert leave into cash for donation to charities and others in need. Nanyang Technological University, for instance, announced that its faculty and staff donated more than $10 million worth of their unused leave to support its students. The National University of Singapore is also exploring the possibility of allowing staff to donate unused annual leave. Such gestures are commendable because they put those who are employed in a position to turn their unconsumed leisure into concrete financial help for others to whom leisure might be the last thing on their minds in these economically challenging times.

Still, such initiatives warrant careful consideration, and employee support. To begin with, not all companies allow leave encashment, thus leaving them outside the purview of the initiative - unless they donate from their own pockets. For firms that do allow conversion of leave to cash, the question then is in choosing charities and causes that employees would prefer. Even willing staff might otherwise ask why they are forced to contribute to causes picked by corporate leaders and in which they have little or no say. Such concerns could be circumvented if employees are free to donate to their preferred charities.

But most important, turning employees' unused leave into donations should not be a means for employers to prove their social credentials and corporate reputations. Annual paid leave exists for a reason: for work-life balance and to give employees respite. This is especially significant in light of concerns about workers' mental wellness amid the pandemic. They must remain free to decide how they choose to use their time off.

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