Seminars, retreats and AGMs at workplaces get green light, but large social gatherings still prohibited

SINGAPORE – Work-related events that take place in the office – such as seminars, corporate retreats and annual general meetings – have been given the green light to go ahead as long as safe-management measures are in place.

However, large-scale social gatherings, including team bonding and dinner and dance events, remain prohibited both in and outside the workplace, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Wednesday (Sept 23) during a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The only things that will resume are work-related events,” emphasised Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

In its updated set of requirements for safe-management measures at the workplace, the Manpower Ministry said that a maximum of 50 people will be allowed to attend such workplace events to limit the risk of exposure to infection.

This number may be lower, depending on the venue’s capacity, as participants must stay at least 1m apart from one another.

Food and drinks should not be served. If it is deemed necessary to serve meals, participants should be seated and served individually.

Although more people will be allowed back into the office, working from home remains the default, Mr Wong said.

Employers must ensure that staff who are able to work from home but return to the office spend at least half their working hours at home, and that no more than half of such employees are at the workplace at any given time.

They should also work to minimise crowding and possible congregation at common spaces by implementing flexible work hours or further staggering reporting times, such that half of all employees start work at or after 10am.

“We would like employers to put in place arrangements for their employees to be able to work partly at home and partly at the workplace, so it doesn’t have to be such a binary arrangement,” Mr Wong added.

For instance, staff could be required to be in the office between 1pm and 5pm, or only return to the office for meetings.

Split team or shift arrangements must still be observed, with clear separation between different groups of employees.

These plans were drawn up after tripartite discussions involving employers, unions and workers, as well as the Government, Mr Wong said.

The Health Ministry added in a statement that the changes aim to “balance the concerns of employers regarding the impact of extended periods of working from home on productivity and workplace relations, while creating safe workplaces for employees”.

They will also help support workers who face difficulties in working from home, it said.

Mr Wong added that the public sector will take the same approach.

“With these new guidelines, agencies will look at their own needs, and to the extent that some agencies may have a requirement for more officers to come back, they will do so,” he said. “But they will follow strictly the new guidelines that we have highlighted.”

The authorities stressed that safe-management measures must be in place at all workplaces, with employees spaced at least 1m apart at workstations or meeting rooms.

Common spaces must be cleaned regularly, and employers should ensure that their staff keep to prevailing guidelines on the permissible group size for social gatherings. This applies to areas such as staff canteens, pantries, and smoking corners.

Companies that do not comply with safe-management measures risk being fined, having their onsite operations suspended, or not getting payouts for government support and grants. More severe violations may result in prosecution.

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