Unvaccinated employees 'banned' from Singapore’s workplaces

What else can HR do to get staff vaccinated?

Unvaccinated employees 'banned' from Singapore’s workplaces

The Singapore government recently (October 23) announced a new policy that will seemingly ban unvaccinated employees from returning to the office. If they must return to the workplace, they will have to adhere to several strict guidelines. This policy comes as officials banned unvaccinated individuals from entering public spaces like malls, retailers, and F&B establishments, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus and attain an ‘endemic’ state.

Ideally, this means that those who’ve had their vaccine shots, yet go on to contract COVID-19 or a variant, will only become mildly ill and can quickly recover at home. As of October 17th, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) reported that 96% of the total workforce has been vaccinated.

“There remains around 113,000 employees who have yet to be vaccinated,” said MOM. “Of these, around 14,000 are aged 60 and above, and are at a very high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 infection.” Only a small proportion of these employees are medically ineligible for vaccination. Hence, MOM urged HR leaders to work with unions and “make a concerted push” to ask eligible staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible. If staff continues to refuse the shots, they will likely face a workplace ban or have a tough time getting into the office.

Read more: Can HR ban unvaccinated employees from the office?

2022: Workplace ban for unvaccinated staff begins

The details of the workplace “ban” were as follows: From January 1st, 2022 onwards, only fully vaccinated employees can return to workplaces. The multi-ministry taskforce explained that unvaccinated employees can only return under strict circumstances:

  • They are medically ineligible for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
  • For those who are eligible but refuse to get the shots, they must test negative at a Ministry of Health (MOH)-approved test provider.
  • The test must be done in advance and be valid for the duration of their time on site.

MOH stated that negative ART results are only valid for 24 hours. Therefore, if the unvaccinated employee’s job cannot be done remotely, they will likely be forced to take the test daily – before they turn up at work. As for those who are doctor-certified as medically ineligible for the mRNA vaccines, they can now get access to Sinovac shots. “[Staff] are strongly encouraged to visit an approved private clinic to do so as soon as possible,” said MOM.

However, if employees are medically ineligible for all the vaccines under Singapore’s vaccination program, including Sinovac, HR can allow them to head into the workplace and exempt them from any vaccination-differentiated measures.

Read more: Is it legal to ask staff to declare their vaccination status?

How can HR deal with vaccine hesitancy at work?

We spoke with Dr Low Kiang Wei, medical director at International SOS to find out how HR can navigate the difficult issue of unvaccinated employees. With MOM’s statistics in mind on the group’s demographics, Dr Low shared that HR leaders can plan a targeted strategy from there.

  1. Choose the most suitable communication platform for staff

Since only about 3% of the eligible workforce remains unvaccinated, HR will likely only have a handful of employees to manage. Regardless, the focus must be on education, raising awareness and empathy. “It goes back to the key points of education and clear communication,” Dr Low said.

Use communication platforms that staff are most comfortable with to dispel any fears, myths or fake news around the vaccine and its side effects. It may even an issue of language barrier, so find ways to use their language or dialect of choice.

“This is the first pandemic where we have social media playing such a big role,” he said. “It really drives home the importance that verified, trusted information needs to be presented, and also in a way that is easy to understand and can cut through all the noise that we are up against.”

  1. Stay ahead of ‘fake news’ and dispel untruths

Leaders should also be aware of the latest ‘fake news’, such as the recent scandal around Ivermectin pills making the rounds on Telegraph. Once aware, leaders should work quickly to “draw their attention” away from such sensationalised and factually inaccurate information. This may be tough to do as fake news around the vaccine are always presented in an attention-grabbing manner, so leaders must find ways not to share the facts in a “boring” manner. Dr Low suggested making it easy to understand and from a trusted and credible source or colleague at work.

Read more: How to manage anti-vaxxers in the workplace

  1. Customise vaccine strategy to meet employee needs

“The vaccine and health [and safety] strategy, even beyond COVID, must be highly customised to the organisation and workforce,” he said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all policy.” Consider the following when designing your strategy:

  • Different groups of employees from different demographics have different concerns.
  • Different business operations will have different requirements.
  • Are you managing a local or regional workforce? Each situation will involve varied local regulations, cultures, and norms, for example.

“Even at one company itself, there may be a manufacturing and a corporate portion,” he said. “The demographics and employee concerns, and what is needed for the business to continue at an optimal rate will be very different.”

  1. Approach staff individually – and with empathy

Also, if possible, try to broach the subject with the employee and ask why they’ve refused the shots. “The government is nudging fairly aggressively at everybody who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated,” he said. “What organisations should be looking at is if the unvaccinated is a small cohort, they should be reaching out to them individually to understand whether they can combat any of their reasons and hesitancy.

“What companies will have to do is adhere to [regulations]. And in the meantime, they can play ‘good cop’ to the government’s ‘bad cop’ to individuals and help them navigate [the policy changes], help them get access [to vaccines] and help placate their worries and anxieties.”

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