THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has released a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) for employees and employers to help them handle the impact of the H1N1 virus on the workplace. This is an edited excerpt of the FAQs.
How can companies ensure business continuity and minimise the impact on their operations?
Employers should start planning early to ensure that disruptions are minimised and prepare to implement their business continuity plans. They can consult the Singapore Business Federation: email@example.com (6827 6867) when developing and implementing such plans.
What can an employer do to minimise disruptions as a result of quarantine?
Employers can implement telecommuting and remote communications access systems (for example, video conferencing) to allow employees to work from home or have split team arrangements, with workers working at separate sites, and so on.
What if there are staff shortages as people are sick and the employer needs to redeploy employees to cover the duties of those on quarantine or sick leave? Can the employee refuse to be re-deployed?
Employers should first take into account whether the employee is qualified or suitably trained to take on these new job duties and consider the risk to the employee's health and safety. Employers should also take all necessary precautions, including providing the necessary Personal Protective Equipment and addressing the affected employees' concerns in their new job duties.
The company should also explain the situation to affected employees (and unions) and seek their understanding to temporarily redeploy them. At the same time, employees are urged to cooperate with their employers so that the company can continue to operate.
Where can employers get more information developments related to Influenza A (H1N1) in Singapore?
Travel and health advisories provided by the Government can be found at www.moh.gov.sg or www.flu.gov.sg. The information should be communicated to employees.
What can employers do to minimise the risk of infection?
Implement infection control measures that include the following:
a. Keep the working environment clean, including frequent disinfection of common areas.
b. Advise employees to maintain high standards of personal hygiene, such as washing their hands frequently with soap and water, and covering their noses and mouths with tissue paper when they cough or sneeze. Those with flu-like symptoms should be asked to see the doctor.
c. Check the Health Ministry (MOH) website (www.moh.gov.sg) for the latest updates on the list of affected areas, so employees can decide whether to proceed with travel plans. If travel is unavoidable, take precautionary measures, such as avoiding crowded areas and contact with anyone who appears unwell, and maintain high standards of personal hygiene at all times.
What if an employee has flu-like symptoms?
Advise the employee to see a doctor and follow the doctor's advice to stay home. Anyone with severe symptoms should seek treatment immediately.
Those back from affected areas overseas in the past seven days should seek medical help as described in the MOH advisories if they have any of these symptoms:
- High fever (over 38 deg C)
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Runny nose
They should not continue with their normal routines to reduce the risk of causing a community spread here, and should avoid taking public transport or taxis. It will be helpful if they keep a record of their movements for seven days after they return from overseas.
What if an employee does not take the necessary precautions despite the employer's advice?
The employer may want to understand the concerns of the employee and assure him that the company is concerned for his health and that of his colleagues.
LEAVE OF ABSENCE
If an employee misses work because of a Home Quarantine Order (HQO), how should his leave of absence be treated?
If the HQO is served by the Ministry of Health, the period of absence should be treated as paid hospitalisation leave the employee is entitled to under his employment contract, collective agreements or under the Employment Act.
If the employee has used up all his hospitalisation leave, the employer is urged to be compassionate and flexible by granting additional paid hospitalisation leave, as the employee may face financial hardship at this time.
For more information, employers and affected employees can call the MOM Contact Centre at 6438 5122. Disputes over a leave of absence arising from a HQO can be referred to MOM's Labour Relations and Workplaces Division at 6317 1145 for advice and assistance.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.