askST: Must employers pay for tests for unvaccinated staff who have to report to the workplace?

There are some 113,000 unvaccinated workers in Singapore. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Staff who return to the workplace must be fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 270 days, from Jan 1 next year (2022).

There are some 113,000 unvaccinated workers in Singapore. Only a small proportion are medically ineligible for the Covid-19 vaccination. Around 14,000 unvaccinated workers are above the age of 60 and at high risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19 infection.

These figures were released by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Saturday (Oct 23), when it announced that only fully vaccinated employees or those who have recovered from Covid-19 can return to the workplace.

MOH and MOM noted that 96 per cent of Singapore's workforce had been vaccinated and that 70 per cent of firms had attained 100 per cent vaccination coverage for their employees as at Oct 17.

The latest expansion of vaccination-differentiated measures means unvaccinated people will need to test negative for Covid-19 before they can return to the workplace. They will need to pay for these antigen rapid tests, the results of which are valid for 24 hours.

Employers who are negligent or wilful in allowing unvaccinated workers to enter the workplace without a valid pre-event test (PET) result will be in breach of safe management measures.

Here are some details that businesses need to know about the new rules, according to MOM.

Q: Do I need to pay for tests for my unvaccinated employees who need to report to the workplace?

A: Unvaccinated staff who are medically eligible for Covid-19 vaccines will have to bear the costs of tests, which can be done at an MOH-approved test provider.

Employers should come to reasonable arrangements with pregnant employees on sharing the costs of their tests.

Companies are strongly encouraged to give special consideration to pregnant employees' needs and concerns, and should consider supporting them through measures such as allowing them to work from home if they are able to do so, according to a separate advisory by MOM, MOH, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

Pregnant staff are, however, strongly encouraged to be vaccinated as they will otherwise be at higher risk of complications should they contract Covid-19. They should consult their obstetricians.

Q: The unvaccinated workers in my company undergo regular testing twice a week, but need to report to work every day. Do they need to be tested more frequently next year?

A: Unvaccinated employees can return to the workplace on the days they take the antigen rapid test and test negative. Additional tests will be required on other days when regular testing is not done and they need to report to the workplace.

Q: My unvaccinated worker's test result is not valid for the full duration that he is at the workplace. Is he allowed to remain at work?

A: The PET result is valid for 24 hours and must cover the full duration that staff need to be at work. Employees who need to remain at work must obtain a negative result on another test that is valid for the duration not covered by the first test.

Q: My employee refuses to disclose his vaccination status. What should I do?

A: Employers may treat these workers and prospective staff as unvaccinated when it comes to matters such as accessing the workplace, implementing workforce vaccination measures and bearing additional costs, according to MOM.

Companies may ask employees to show their vaccination status through their TraceTogether app and token, HealthHub app or their physical vaccination card. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Q: How do I check employees' vaccination status?

A: Companies may ask employees to show their vaccination status through the TraceTogether app and token, HealthHub app or physical vaccination card.

Q: My foreign employee was declared medically ineligible for vaccination in his home country. Can I accept that as proof of him being medically ineligible?

A: Such workers will need to be certified medically ineligible for the vaccines under Singapore's national vaccination programme by a registered doctor here.

Q: Can I require potential hires to be vaccinated?

A: Yes, companies can require potential employees to be vaccinated while recruiting them or in job advertisements.

Q: Do vaccinated employees need to be tested before they enter the workplace?

A: Companies must comply with existing regulations for testing vaccinated employees. If there are no such requirements, employers are still encouraged to regularly test vaccinated employees who return to the workplace, as well as bear the costs of tests for these employees.

Q: Do visitors such as customers and clients also need to be vaccinated?

A: Visitors to workplaces are typically transient in nature, so they are not subject to workforce vaccination measures. Self-employed individuals - including delivery drivers, private-hire drivers and real estate agents - are generally also exempted from these measures because many of them do not have fixed workplaces. However, owners of premises should implement the measures for self-employed people who work regularly at these places.

Non-employees - such as independent contractors and vendors - need to comply with the workforce vaccination rules if they work in the same place as other staff.

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