Can Employers Make COVID-19 Vaccination Compulsory in Singapore?

woman getting vaccination injection

In hopes of facilitating business operations, some employers may compel their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even though the Singapore government has expressed that taking the vaccine is not compulsory.

As an employee, however, you may not want to be vaccinated or you are unable to receive the jabs for health or other personal reasons. This article will help you learn more about whether your Singapore employer can legally compel you to get COVID-19 vaccinations, and the potential implications of not being vaccinated on your employment. It will discuss:

Can Your Employer Make You Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19 in Singapore? 

The national vaccination policy in Singapore is that employers should not make vaccinations against COVID-19 compulsory. However, in employment settings where employees are exposed to a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, employers may choose to make COVID-19 vaccination a company policy to minimise the risk of outbreaks.

Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) also stipulates that employers have the duty to take measures that are necessary to ensure the health and safety of employees at work. Thus, this duty empowers employers to make vaccination compulsory in certain situations.

The Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) has released an advisory on whether an employment setting is considered higher risk. A higher-risk employment setting is one where the employee is required to undergo Rostered Routine Testing (RRT), mandated Fast and Easy Testing (FET), or is in regular contact with known COVID-19 cases or persons who are isolated due to the risk of COVID-19 infections.

A more detailed explanation on which employees are required to undergo RRT and FET is included below.

Examples of employees in higher-risk employment settings include:

  • Healthcare employees
  • Hotel employees in contact with people serving Stay-Home Notices (SHN)
  • Laboratory employees doing COVID-19-related work

Higher-risk employment settings also include situations that make Safe Management Measures ineffective or impracticable, such as in communal living conditions (e.g. dormitories). Another example would be where the work environment or nature of work may require masks to be removed (e.g. professional athletes in sports involving close physical contact, construction employees at worksites with a high population density, and staff in dine-in food and beverage establishments and personal care services).

Even if you are an employee in a higher-risk employment setting, your employer should still exempt you from the vaccination requirement if you are not suitable to receive the vaccine as determined by the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) guidelines. For example, you are exempted if you have a severely weakened immune system (e.g, due to recent organ transplant, or because you have HIV with CD4 count <200 cells/mm3).

Sick leave for compulsory vaccinations in higher-risk settings 

If your employer chooses to make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory as part of company policy, your employer should provide you and other affected employees with additional paid sick leave (beyond what you are contractually and statutorily entitled to). This is to support your recovery from any immediate adverse medical complications from taking the vaccine.

Can Your Employer Make You Disclose Your Vaccination Status? 

Your employer is entitled to ask for your vaccination status only for business purposes. Such business purposes include business continuity planning,  which involves strategising how the business will resume after an unexpected disruption to business operations. Your employer may also need to know your vaccination status to decide whether you can travel for business or be deployed to high-risk or front-line roles.

Outside of these situations, your employer cannot legally force you to disclose your COVID-19 vaccination status. Your employer should also explain to you clearly why they need to know your vaccination status.

Can Your Employer Make You Undergo COVID-19 Tests as Part of Your Employment? 

Your employer can make you undergo COVID-19 tests (such as RRT) only if you are a worker at a higher risk of infection. The groups of workers required to undergo RRT are:

  • All workers from the construction, marine and processing sectors (unless working in company office premises) and personnel who go into such work sites.
  • All workers from the manufacturing and services sectors staying in purpose-built dormitories, factory-converted dormitories, decant sites, and Temporary Occupational Licence Quarters / Construction Temporary Quarters.
  • Workers who are part of dormitory operations staff (e.g. dormitory managers, security guards, cleaners, and other frontline workers).
  • Recovered workers who have passed 270 days from their date of symptoms onset or detection of infection.
  • Newly arrived recovered workers.
  • Special Pass holders who were previously Work Permit holders.

Furthermore, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MMT) has announced that all outlet employees at dine-in F&B establishments will have to undergo a mandatory FET regime every 14 days, regardless of their vaccination statuses.

Where it is not compulsory for you to take a COVID-19 test, you should not be discriminated against for not providing a negative test result to your employer. Discrimination may come in the form of your employer taking punitive measures against you for not getting vaccinated, such as cutting your bonus, or terminating or demoting you.

What are Your Options If Your Employer Requires You to be Vaccinated or Get Tested Regularly but You are Uncomfortable with this?

You may wish to discuss with your employer other possible options that allow you not to be vaccinated or get tested regularly. For instance, you may request to be moved to a lower-risk role that is in line with your experience and skills, according to your company’s existing redeployment policy or a policy mutually agreed between you and your employer.

However, you should be aware that your employer can also seek to recover COVID-19 related costs from you for declining to be vaccinated or tested regularly, if it had made such vaccination or testing compulsory. Such costs can be incurred from SHN accommodation, for example, and can be calculated to be over and above the costs incurred for vaccinated employees in similar employment settings. The costs can be recovered either through salary deductions or by requiring you to pay the relevant service provider directly.

Additionally, employers may choose to offer a different leave policy for vaccinated employees compared to those who decline vaccination. Employees who decline vaccination may also be put on no-pay leave for the duration of any SHN served.

If you do not think that your workplace is considered higher-risk, you may discuss with your employer why he or she deems it to be higher-risk. If both of you cannot agree, you may contact MOM for further advice.

Alternatively, if the above measures have been ineffective, you may consider changing your employment as a last resort. However, be aware that other employers may also impose a vaccination requirement at the point of recruitment or advertisement for new hires, if they deem their employment settings to be higher-risk such that vaccination is required.

What Can You Do If You Believe that You have been Unfairly Treated at Work, or Unfairly Dismissed From Work, For Refusing to Get Vaccinated/Tested?

You may approach your union or MOM for advice if you feel that you have been treated unfairly by your employer over COVID-19 vaccinations and testing at your workplace.

Your employer should not terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the ground of declining vaccination or COVID-19 testing. Generally, your employer can terminate you by giving the required notice or salary in lieu of notice. In doing so, your employer does not have to state the reason for termination. However, if you believe that you are being terminated because you decline to get vaccinated or tested, then you may have been wrongfully dismissed.

If you are an employee covered under the Employment Act and believe that you have been unfairly or wrongfully dismissed, you may consider resolving the matter internally. This could be done by arranging a meeting with your Human Resources department to find out why you have been dismissed, or lodge an internal complaint against the alleged unfair treatment.

If this fails, you may wish to file a mediation claim with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) to mediate the matter between you and your employer. If TADM is unable to help you resolve the matter, you may choose to bring the case to Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT).

If you are worried about how deciding not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 might affect your employment, be aware that vaccination is compulsory only if you work in a higher-risk employment setting set out by MOH. However, you may also be required to undergo tests if you are a worker at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection.

Regardless, your employer cannot terminate you or threaten to terminate you on the grounds of you declining to get vaccinated or tested. If you feel uncomfortable with your employer’s actions or believe that you have been unfairly treated, there are options available to try to resolve the matter (as discussed above).

You may also wish to consult an employment disputes lawyer who can advise you on your employment-related issues, such as on filing a claim with TADM and ECT, and help you file a civil claim if necessary.