COVID-19: Legal Webinar Series: Examination of Employer's Obligations

COVID-19: Legal Webinar Series: Examination of Employer's Obligations

12 August 2020, Singapore - The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused a significant impact on employers’ duties and responsibilities. As a result, ASPRI’s Knowledge, Education, Experience and Networking (KEEN) Work Group worked with Mr David Shanmugam, Counsel from Netto & Magin LLC, to organise a series of complimentary legal webinars. To kick off the series, 40 members attended the first webinar aimed at examining the responsibilities of employers and the additional duties they have to undertake during this challenging period.

During her opening address, Ms Huang Wen Jia, Committee Member of ASPRI’s 13th Executive Council and the Co-Lead of ASPRI’s KEEN Work Group highlighted how the financial strength and manpower of businesses have been affected by the pandemic. She also empathised with ASPRI members regarding the financial and manpower strains they faced and encouraged them to persevere during this turbulent time.

At the start of his presentation, Mr Shanmugam gave a quick recap of the safe-distancing measures announced by the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on 3rd April 2020. He then highlighted the responsibilities of employers and how they must fulfil them to the best of their abilities. They should not discriminate against any particular group of people – age, race, gender, religion, marital status, family responsibility, or disability. He also emphasised that employees who are of older ages, or who are pregnant, or who have been re-employed, should also not be unfairly treated.

Mr Shanmugam also proposed to redeploy employees to alternative areas of work where their skills might be more suited for the job. Employers can also implement a flexible work schedule and work arrangements to accommodate both parties.

If retrenchment is inevitable, Mr Shanmugam mentioned it is important that employees are treated with dignity and respect during a retrenchment exercise. Retrenchment is a difficult time for all, especially for the affected employees and their families. He added that the selection of employees should be conducted fairly, based on objective criteria such as the ability of the employee to contribute to the company’s future business needs.

Any salary or working hours negotiations should be done amicably between employers and employees. Mr Shanmugam advised both parties to come to an acceptable agreement by taking into consideration the business needs and employee’s concerns. If no agreement could be reached, the initial contractual terms and conditions must remain unchanged. However, either party can serve notice and end the employment relationship.

Towards the end of the webinar, members managed to clarify their doubts through a Q&A segment. Last but not least, the webinar was concluded with a photo-taking session. Members were encouraged to attend the second webinar of the series titled, “The COVID-19 Temporary Measures Act” where Mr Shanmugam will be discussing the act in detail. ASPRI would like to greatly thank Mr Shanmugam and every ASPRI member who attended for making the webinar possible.