Coronavirus: Firms urged to get staff who returned from abroad to go on leave of absence

From 11.59pm on March 20, all arriving travellers, including Singaporeans, will face even more stringent measures and will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.
From 11.59pm on March 20, all arriving travellers, including Singaporeans, will face even more stringent measures and will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has urged companies to impose a leave of absence (LOA) on employees who returned from overseas between March 14 and yesterday, before a mandatory stay-home requirement for all those entering Singapore kicked in.

This comes amid a surge in imported cases of Covid-19 in the past week, as the virus spread to more than 180 countries and territories.

In a statement yesterday, MOM said employers which place their staff on voluntary LOA will be able to claim daily support under a programme aimed at helping companies affected by the leave requirements during the outbreak.

MOM's initiative follows a mandatory LOA imposed recently by schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Students, teachers and school staff who returned from overseas between March 14 and yesterday will have to remain at home for 14 days from their date of return, and can leave home only to buy daily necessities or attend to important personal matters.

Even stricter measures kicked in yesterday from 11.59pm, with all those arriving in Singapore, including Singaporeans, being issued a 14-day stay-home notice.

This means they will not be able to leave their homes for the entire 14-day period.

In encouraging companies to impose the LOA, MOM said: "The Government recognises that many parents have been affected by this national measure due to the need to provide care for their children during this period."

"At the same time, it is a useful precautionary measure for people who have travelled recently to stay away from the workplace to prevent further transmission."

While some employers have already put in place similar measures, those which have not are encouraged to do so and to "provide additional paid leave to the employees, if work from home is not feasible", considering that the LOA would not have been discussed before their employees travelled.

MOM will allow companies that comply to apply for the $100 daily support under the LOA support programme, subject to certain criteria.

This also applies to those who are self-employed and who have to place themselves on LOA.

The daily support covers only employees who are Singaporeans, permanent residents or work-pass holders. Companies can also claim a levy waiver for their affected work pass holders.

While many companies have been hit hard by the coronavirus and its overall impact on the economy, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee believes they will impose the voluntary LOA.

"It is not just about manpower capacity, but also the health and safety of the rest of the members of the company, so even though businesses are already facing cost pressures from every angle, I think they will take this advisory very seriously," he said.

"Returning employees account for a small portion of total headcount, plus a lot of SMEs have also put in place business continuity plans and flexible working arrangements, so I think they will take this in their stride."

Mr Johnny Lim, executive director of Teambuild Engineering and Construction, which has close to 300 employees, said his company had already encouraged its staff to avoid travelling before MOM's advisory was announced, and would definitely put any returning workers on LOA.

"We already sounded them out and a lot of them are quite mindful and have cancelled their holiday plans," he said.

"It is for the bigger interest of society and also for the business. Most people will take it quite seriously."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2020, with the headline 'Firms urged to get staff who returned from abroad to go on leave of absence'. Print Edition | Subscribe