Public officers who choose not to take Covid-19 jabs may be put on no-pay leave as a last resort

Those who choose not to get vaccinated despite being medically eligible and cannot be redeployed may be put on no-pay leave as a last resort. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Public officers who choose not to get vaccinated against Covid-19 despite being medically eligible may be put on no-pay leave or not have their contracts renewed when they end, as a last resort.

In response to media queries on Thursday (Nov 4), the Public Service Division (PSD) said it will do its best to allow unvaccinated staff to work from home from Jan 1, 2022, if the job can be done remotely.

Officers who remain unvaccinated despite being medically eligible may also be allowed to return to work on-site if they take a pre-event test at their own cost.

The unvaccinated staff may otherwise be redeployed to other work that can be done remotely if such jobs are available with remuneration "commensurate with the responsibilities of the alternative jobs", its spokesman said.

But those who choose not to get vaccinated despite being medically eligible and cannot be redeployed may be put on no-pay leave, or have their contracts lapse with no further renewal as a last resort.

The spokesman said the public service will focus on counselling such officers on the importance of vaccination and consider ways to redeploy them to allow remote working.

Last month, the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 announced that only fully vaccinated employees or those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 270 days can return to the workplace from Jan 1, 2022.

Unvaccinated staff will not be allowed at the workplace unless they have a negative pre-event testing result.

The stance taken by PSD - Singapore's largest employer with around 153,000 officers - is in line with the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) advisory on Covid-19 vaccination at the workplace.

In its advisory issued on Oct 23, MOM, along with tripartite partners National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers' Federation, said that for unvaccinated workers whose work can be performed at home, employers may allow them to continue doing so, but such arrangements remain the employer's prerogative.

For those whose work cannot be done remotely, employers can either:

- Allow them to continue working in the existing job with pre-event testing done at the employee's own expense and time;

- Redeploy them to suitable jobs that can be done from home if such openings are available, with remuneration commensurate with the responsibilities of the alternative jobs; or

- Place them on no-pay leave or, as a last resort, terminate their employment with notice in accordance with the employment contract.

The advisory highlighted that if termination of employment is due to the employee's inability to be at the workplace to perform his or her contracted work, it would not be considered as wrongful dismissal.

The tripartite partners urged for special considerations to be given to pregnant employees and those medically ineligible for vaccines under the national vaccination programme.

Three vaccines are currently under the programme - the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna mRNA vaccines, and Sinovac-CoronVac.

As at mid-October, about 96 per cent of Singapore's total workforce has been vaccinated, with around 113,000 employees yet to be inoculated. Only a small proportion of the 113,000 workers are medically ineligible for vaccination.

PSD said that about 98 per cent of public officers are fully vaccinated.

"Public agencies will strongly encourage the remaining officers to get fully vaccinated to protect themselves and others," the spokesman added.

Dr David Leong, managing director of human resources firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said employers are likely to take a similar stance to what the PSD is adopting towards employees who continue to choose not to get vaccinated.

"Workplace safety can be compromised when unvaccinated co-workers become the links to infecting others," he said, adding that this could be detrimental to business operations.

This article has been updated for clarity.

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