Coronavirus: Firms which fail to implement telecommuting where possible may face fines, stop-work orders

Office workers going through a thermal scanner at MBFC Towers on March 11, 2020.
Office workers going through a thermal scanner at MBFC Towers on March 11, 2020.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will come down harder on companies that have not made serious efforts to put in place work-from-home arrangements, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said on Tuesday (March 31).

Speaking at the multi-ministry task force briefing, she warned that MOM is looking into amending laws to increase potential penalties, including fines and stop-work orders, for firms that fail to follow MOM advisories which were announced in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mrs Teo also said there will be a fivefold increase in the number of enforcement officers conducting checks on companies to more than 100.

Recommendations announced earlier had called for employers to adopt telecommuting where possible, stagger work hours for employees who need to be in the office and reduce close contact at work. 

"Telecommuting is a critical part of safe distancing, particularly in workplaces... There is a lot of scope for us to do more, especially the private sector firms," Mrs Teo said.

"MOM will be stepping up enforcement in the coming weeks. We will look at the nature of work and make an assessment... We will require companies to up their game."

On March 27, the MOM said that it had issued 34 stop-work orders and 36 remedial orders over four days to companies that did not meet safe distancing standards, with these pending "immediate rectifications".

Mrs Teo said that public sector firms are taking the lead on adapting to the changed work environment during the pandemic, with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Infocomm Media Development Authority allowing 90 per cent of its employees to telecommute.

 
 
 

While some private companies have done "exceedingly well", Mrs Teo estimated that most firms in the central business district are still recalling 60 per cent of their workers back to the office.

"I want to emphasise this. Employers must allow employees to work from home as far as reasonably practicable... This should be for all timings and all days not just sometimes and some days.

"If the nature of work allows for work to be done from home, companies should ensure that all their employees work from home," she said.

Mrs Teo sought to reassure firms that a "measured approach" will be taken when it comes to punishment meted out in what is already a period of economic hardship for many companies.

"I should say it's not our intention to simply issue a stop-work order without considering the circumstances of the companies.

 
 
 

"We are looking for evidence that companies have made serious attempts to implement stay-at-home, telecommuting arrangements but we are also mindful that this is not always possible," she said, citing manufacturing firms as an example.

"But one thing is very clear - 100 per cent is better than 80, 80 is better than 60... So even if companies have implemented some telecommuting measures, we will ask the important question of whether we can do more," she said.

Correction note: The article previously said that the number of enforcement officers conducting checks on companies is currently 100. This is incorrect. Instead, the number of enforcement officers will increase to more than 100. We are sorry for the error.