Can My Employer Cut My Pay if I Choose to Work From Home?

Last updated on August 7, 2023

Man stressed looking at bankbook

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of flexible work arrangements, including work from home arrangements in Singapore. For many, work from home arrangements are now not just something that they have become used to, but also an expectation. However, without any laws in place directly regulating the implementation of flexible work arrangements, employees may be worried that they may suffer the consequences of raising a request for flexible work arrangements. These include whether their employers may cut their pay if they choose to work from home.

Under a new set of guidelines for such arrangements that will take effect from 2024, employers must consider their employees’ requests for flexible work arrangements fairly and properly, but the question as to whether employers can legally cut their employees’ pay remains unclear. This article will cover the following topics:

What are Flexible Work Arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements refer to work arrangements where employers and employees agree to vary the typical work arrangement of working a full-time job, with fixed hours and from a designated workplace. These variations can be categorised into three main categories:

  • Flexi-time arrangements: Such arrangements are centred around allowing employees to decide how best to schedule their time, within certain parameters prescribed by their employers. For example, requiring employees to work 40 hours a week but allowing them to decide to do so within a 4-day work week, allowing employees to stagger their start and end work hours, or contracting employees to work a certain number of hours per week, but allowing them the flexibility to work at any time of the day, provided they complete the stipulated hours.
  • Flexi-load arrangements: Flexi-load arrangements refer to arrangements where employees are allowed to adjust and tailor their workloads according to their needs. For example, employers can provide for job sharing arrangements, where two or more part-time employees can share the responsibilities of one full-time employee, so that they can divide their responsibilities among themselves, or employers can engage employees for specific periods or certain projects only.
  • Flexi-place arrangements: Such arrangements are most commonly referred to as work from home arrangements, and basically involve employees being allowed to telecommute, and work from a location other than the workplace.

Flexible working arrangements really came to the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many companies were forced to transition to fully work from home arrangements. As such, work from home became a norm for employees during the pandemic. As Singapore transitioned to living with COVID-19, and COVID-19 measures were gradually eased, many companies retained flexible work arrangements, to afford their employees flexibility in work schedules, especially if they need to juggle caregiving/parenting responsibilities etc.

What are the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements?

The Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements (Guidelines) refers to a new set of guidelines to be released by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) in 2024. The aim of the Guidelines is to provide a comprehensive framework to aid employers to implement flexible work arrangements. The main guidelines that will be introduced in the Guidelines include that:

  • Employers will be required to consider any and all requests from their employees for flexible work arrangements, and must do so fairly and properly. For example, an employee who needs to pick his/her child from school in the evenings may request for flexi-time work arrangements, i.e. to be allowed to start work earlier so that he/she can leave work earlier. The employer will have to at least consider the request, including assessing the potential advantages and disadvantages of granting the request.
  • Employers have the prerogative to grant or reject their employees’ requests, but must have valid reasons for their decision. This allows employers to take into consideration their business needs. For example, employers may reject an employee’s request for flexible work arrangements on the basis that the employee’s primary job scope is in machine maintenance, and flexible work arrangements would not be practical and/or may have significant resource implications.

At the moment, the position is unclear as to whether the Guidelines will be binding, but it appears that employers are expected to abide by the Guidelines in any case.

In the interim period, prior to the introduction of the Guidelines, employers are encouraged to adopt the Tripartite Standards on Flexible Work Arrangements (Standards). However, adoption of the Standards is entirely up to the employers, and is not mandatory. The Standards set out practices that employers should implement in order to help their employees better manage their work-life needs through flexible work options, and consists of five main recommendations:

  1. Employers should offer flexible work arrangements to their employees.
  2. Employers should appoint a member of the senior management to champion and promote flexible work arrangements.
  3. Employees should be allowed to, and feel comfortable to, request for flexible work arrangements offered by their employers. This also means that employers should inform employees about the types of flexible work arrangements offered, the process to request for them, and the expectations of employees on the responsible use of flexible work arrangements. Such information can be made available on the intranet, human resources policy, or internal circulars.
  4. Employers should evaluate and communicate the outcomes of employees’ flexible work arrangements applications promptly, and should ensure that they are well-documented. In the event a request is denied, employers should communicate the reasons to their employees and discuss appropriate alternatives where possible, to meet the needs of both the employer as well as the employee.
  5. Employers should ensure that their staff in-charge of evaluating employees’ flexible work arrangements applications are well-trained to conduct such evaluations objectively, and also to set work expectations, manage and appraise employees on flexible work arrangements.

That said, employers who are keen to adopt the Standards and offer flexible work arrangements to their employees should still be mindful to comply with the Employment Act and relevant employment-related legislation in Singapore, such as the Personal Data Protection Act or the Work Injury Compensation Act. Employers should follow the following guidelines when implementing flexible work arrangements:

  • Employers should ensure that the flexible work arrangements offered and granted do not violate the terms and conditions set out in the Employment Act. For example, employees’ working hours should not exceed 8 hours daily or 44 hours weekly, and if employees are required to work overtime, they should be remunerated with overtime payment.
  • Employers should put in place measures to protect their employees’ personal data, so as to retain compliance with the Personal Data Protection Act. This is especially since with more employees working from home, the cybersecurity measures implemented by the company at the workplace may be less effective, which leaves personal data stored by the company more vulnerable to external attacks. Hence, employers should adopt measures such as keeping their data security software up to date and able to accommodate remote working setups, as well as conduct training for employees to increase their awareness of the cybersecurity risks from working remotely and how to deal with them.
  • Employers should provide a safe working environment, regardless of whether their employees are working at the workplace or remotely. The general health and safety requirements in the Workplace Safety and Health Act continue to apply to employees working from home. Hence, employers should make it a point to communicate with their employees and conduct health and safety risk assessments of their employees’ remote working setups and take additional measures to mitigate any additional risks, including reconsidering and refining existing insurance policies. Employers should also reconsider the need to have a separate set of rules and regulations for remote working, so as to encourage safe working procedures at home.
  • Employers should ensure that the terms of the employment contract, including flexible work arrangements, are expressly stated in the contract and agreed upon by both parties.

Can My Employer Cut My Pay If I Choose to Work From Home?

As an employee, you may be worried that your employer will cut your pay if you choose to work from home. Such concerns are not entirely unfounded, as many companies abroad have started doing so, or announced that they will be doing so. For example, in the US, large corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter have cut the pay of employees who switch to working from home permanently.

In Singapore, it is an open question as to whether such a practice is legal or permitted, as there is no specific legislation addressing this. However, as mentioned above, employers still have to comply with the Employment Act and relevant employment-related legislation, which have certain safeguards in place. For example, the Employment Act requires employers to notify employees in writing of their key employment terms, including the terms surrounding the payment of their salaries. This prevents employers from being able to unilaterally vary your pay on the basis of your choice to work from home. 

The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, also issued by TAFEP and which employers are expected to abide by, require employers to remunerate their employees fairly, taking into consideration factors such as their ability, performance, contribution, skills, knowledge and experience. Arguably, this prevents employers from deducing your remuneration unfairly, if the only basis for doing so is that you have chosen to work from home instead of working from the workplace, assuming your work performance is unaffected.

In the event of a dispute over your salary, you can file a complaint with one of two authorities: Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) or the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). These organisations can investigate the complaint and take appropriate action.

  1. To file a claim with TADM, you will need to complete an online form with your name and contact details. TADM can assist in the resolution of your complaint either by arranging for a mediation session with the assistance of a TADM mediator, or by providing advisory services to you on how to move forward with your complaint.
  2. MOM offers a 24-hour online service that allows you to report an employment infringement. Employment infringements refer to violations of the Employment Act, and cover areas like an employee’s salary, leave entitlements, public holidays entitlements, or working hours and rest days. After you file your complaint with MOM, you will be contacted by a MOM officer to verify your report and advise on the next steps. MOM can take certain actions against the offending employer, including revoking the work pass privileges of employers. Employers can also be fined upon conviction for offences under the Employment Act, such as for failing to pay salaries. 

How Can I Discuss Working From Home With My Employer?

If your life priorities or needs require you to be able to work from home either permanently or partially, you should definitely consider having a discussion with your employer. However, in order to ensure that you maximise your chances of receiving a favourable reply from your employer, you should take note of the following points:

  1. You should be aware of and properly think through the reasons why you need to be able to work from home. If possible, try to frame these reasons as being beneficial to not only yourself, but also your employer. It is important to remember that your employer may not be resistant to the idea of you working from home, but may simply be uncertain about, or afraid of, the impact that it may have on things like your work performance, your productivity, or the degree of control they will have over you. Hence, you can frame your reasons in a way that addresses some of these potential fears. For example, instead of saying that you prefer to work from home because of the long and exhausting commute to work, you may instead consider reframing your reason to be that you prefer to work from home so that you can get more rest in the morning, which would allow you to be more productive for the rest of the day.
  2. While it may be best for you to work from home permanently, consider making your request in stages (i.e. request to work from home for a certain number of days a week, and slowly increase that number from there). Doing so can help you get used to the transition from the routine of working at the workplace to the new normal of working from home. More importantly, this can also ease your employer into seeing that any fears that they may have had were unfounded, which would make it easier for you to achieve your target of working from home permanently in the near future.
  3. Depending on your occupation, one downside from working from home may be that your employer will have less direct oversight over your work performance. If this applies to you, it may be important to keep a record of the metrics that your employer may be interested to know, for example, how many hours you worked, the work/projects that you completed etc. This allows your employers to keep track of your work performance, and also to continually assess whether working from home is suitable. You can also schedule regular check-ins with your supervisor to assure him/her of your work performance.

Some companies may already have a corporate work from home policy, i.e. a set of company guidelines allowing employees to work from home, and covering matters such as employees’ eligibility for working from home as well as the responsibilities and expectations of both employers and employees while working from home. 

If your employer has a corporate work from home policy in place, you should definitely go through the policy, as it will give you an insight as to what your employer is really looking out for, and is concerned about when it comes to implementing a work from home policy. This will allow you to equip yourself with the information needed to word your requests to work from home the right way, taking into account these concerns.

For a more detailed discussion on what employers consider when drafting a work from home policy for their employees, you can consult our other article on the topic.

In conclusion, as working from home becomes the norm, employees and employers alike should bear in mind the latest employment-related legislation that applies to flexible work arrangements, including whether employers are entitled to reduce the remuneration of employees who choose to work from home.

While the Guidelines have yet to be issued, employers looking to get a head-start can review the Standards published by TAFEP, and incorporate some of the recommendations in their company policies, so that when the Guidelines are issued, the transition is a smoother one.

For employees who need further tailored advice on flexible work arrangements, or disputes arising from flexible work arrangements, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer or employment disputes lawyer respectively. Employment lawyers would be able to review your employment contract and advise you on your rights and obligations, as well as on your legal options in the event of a potential dispute.

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