Is HR obligated to offer paid eldercare leave?

HRD finds out employers’ responsibilities towards Singapore’s ‘sandwich generation’

Is HR obligated to offer paid eldercare leave?

While paid childcare leave is legislated in Singapore, there are no laws that oblige you to offer employees any parent or eldercare leave.

TAFEP does, however, have a Tripartite Standard on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs. This guideline encourages employers to offer staff up to two weeks of unpaid leave per year for the caring of immediate family members who are hospitalised.

While employees are encouraged to use their annual leave first, providing additional unpaid leave can be helpful in offering much needed support through a stressful period, said TAFEP.

They also suggested that employers do the following:

  • Allow employees to request for more leave if they require
  • Include the documentation of leave requests and responses
  • Notify employees on the outcomes of leave requests in a timely manner

Read more: Can HR reject childcare leave requests?

Should Singapore legislate eldercare leave?
In a letter seen by HRD, one advocate urged the government to legislate six days of paid eldercare leave.

This is especially due to the fact that only about 20% of private companies offer parent-care leave. Civil servants, on the other hand, are eligible for up to two days of paid parent-care leave per year.

Jasmine Gomez, project consultant, at Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), a gender equality advocacy group, called on the government to better support employees who regularly find themselves forced to choose between family or career.

Almost seven in 10 employees felt conflicted by the issue, according to AWARE’s research in 2019.

Read more: Elderly care: What is HR’s responsibility?

“Family caregivers face difficulty juggling caregiving responsibilities with paid work, due to the high demands of both,” Gomez said. “Unsurprisingly, many are forced to quit their jobs or reduce their working hours to cope with caregiving duties.

“Even for those who employ migrant domestic workers to help, AWARE’s research shows that family caregivers are still primarily responsible for caregiving tasks. These include care navigation, arranging for medical appointments, speaking to care professionals, and managing care costs.”

AWARE’s research also found that caregivers feared being penalised or dismissed from their jobs for taking ‘too much time off’ and looking ‘less committed to work’.

What’s more, since caregiving leave is unpaid, employees who take it lose significant income.

Gomez thus urged the government to legislate six days of paid eldercare leave, in addition to the current offering of six days of childcare leave.

Employees who have both responsibilities will therefore be entitled to 12 days of family care leave. This is a nod to Singapore’s sandwich generation, individuals who are tasked to raise their young children, as well as care for their elderly parents aged 65 or older.

Read more: Employee fired after taking leave to care for terminally ill father

Flexible working: An alternative?
Besides legislating leave, Louis Ng, a member of parliament, suggested earlier this year that employers offer access to flexi-work arrangements to allow caregivers ‘greater flexibility if they need to take some time away from work for ad hoc parental care duties’.

Ng said caregivers had feedbacked that they preferred flexibility over parental leave ‘as a more sustainable way’ to balance work and personal responsibilities.

In a separate session, Ng also raised the issue of legislating the right for all employees to request flexible work arrangements. He said the law should require employers who rejected such requests to provide ‘a specific business-related reason’.

While the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) recognised the importance of flexi-work in helping workers manage both work and personal responsibilities, there are currently no plans to legislate flexibility.

“MOM will monitor the effects of the higher use of flexi-work arrangements and study the best ways to entrench best practices after COVID-19,” said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

“We will consider the experience of other jurisdictions and work with tripartite partners to ensure the interests of both employees and employers are considered.

“In the meantime, we urge employers to press on and continue to implement work arrangements that enable employees to maintain work-life harmony while continuing to meet business needs.”

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