Companies in Singapore that do not arrange for flexible working arrangements and other safe distancing measures to arrest the spread of Covid-19 may be looking at financial penalties, right up to stop-work orders if necessary, said manpower minister Josephine Teo on March 31. The city-state has faced difficulties getting office workers to adopt telecommuting, especially in the crowded central business district, where the ministry estimates that 60 percent of workers are still not telecommuting despite the higher likelihood that their work can be done from home.
This is in contrast to the government’s already taking the lead, with some government agencies having as many as 90 percent of their staff telecommuting by now. Even counter service functions have been shifted online, said Teo.
“I want to emphasise this: Employers must allow your employees to work from home, as far as reasonably practicable,” she said, adding that her ministry’s officers will be making the rounds to check on companies that are not doing so.
However, she acknowledged that telecommuting is not going to be workable for sectors such as manufacturing and logistics, as well as for certain job functions that require employees to actually be on-site, and urged companies in such circumstances to observe safe distancing measures and staggered working hours instead.
The reluctance of so many companies to implement telecommuting despite the government already doing so is unusual, given that typically in Singapore, the private sector takes the lead from what the public sector is doing. However, there is also still a strong “face time” culture in the city-state, where many companies place value on having employees present in the workplace. The prospect of fines and other penalties, though, may be the start of this culture changing.