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Firms in Singapore finance district could be fined for WFH failures

If you’re still based at Raffles Place or Marina Bay, now may be a good time to submit a work-from-home (WFH) request.

The Singapore government has already urged banks and other employers to move staff to WFH arrangements where practical – and many firms put these in place from 7 February when Singapore increased its disease alert to ‘orange’ level.

However, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo has estimated that most firms in the central business district – the area that is home to banks’ Singapore HQs – are recalling 60% of their staff back to the office.

Teo warned that her department, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) won’t always leave WFH decisions up to employers. It could conduct its own reviews to identify jobs that could viably be performed at home.

“Telecommuting [WFH] is a critical part of safe distancing, particularly in workplaces…There is a lot of scope for us to do more, especially the private sector firms,” she said in a briefing yesterday. “MOM will be stepping up enforcement in the coming weeks. We will look at the nature of work and make an assessment…We will require companies to up their game.”

MOM is also considering increasing potential penalties, including fines and stop-work orders, for employers that breach its advisories, including WFH rules, reports the Straits Times. The number of MOM enforcement officers, who perform Covid-19 regulatory checks on workplaces, will increase from 100 to about 500.

The fresh focus on WFH is likely to be welcomed by finance professionals in Singapore. While bankers we spoke with recently said they were generally happy with the precautionary measures the government and their firms have taken, a few office-based staff told us they would feel safer at home.

Singapore’s finance district is not a hotbed for Covid-19, but there have been cases in the area. On Monday a bar popular with bankers was linked to five coronavirus cases. As we were the first to report last week, a Bank of America employee in the firm’s OUE Bayfront offices has been diagnosed with Covid-19. In February, DBS evacuated 300 employees from Tower 3 of the Marina Bay Finance Centre, after an employee tested positive for coronavirus.

Minister Teo said that even if companies have already implemented some WFH measures, MOM will “ask the important question of whether we can do more”. “Employers must allow employees to work from home as far as reasonably practicable…This should be for all timings and all days not just sometimes and some days,” she added.

The MOM crackdown won’t just affect banks and other large employers. Small firms – such as hedge funds and fintech startups – also need to carefully consider if it’s vital to keep staff in the office. Teo stressed that the rules apply to “all workplaces regardless of size”.

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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