This story was updated on 2 March 2022, updates follow:
In further conversation on this topic in Parliament, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Dr Koh Poh Koon responded to MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang's query.
SMS Koh reiterated that attendance-related incentive schemes that consider sick leave utilisation are contrary to the principle of appraising and remunerating employees in a fair and objective manner. "Companies should therefore review and make adjustments where necessary."
He added that from 2023, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) will engage employers who still continue with such schemes to stop. If they continue, TAFEP will recommend enforcement action to the Ministry of Manpower, which could include the suspension of work pass privileges.
At present, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness is deliberating on the scope and design of legislation to enshrine the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) in law.
The Ministry of Manpower, starting next year, will make clear that such policies override the principle of protecting an employee's wellbeing. Companies will have time to review and adjust policies, where necessary.
Singapore's Minister for Manpower, Dr Tan See Leng, at the latest parliamentary sitting (14 February 2022), replied to two questions regarding attendance-related incentive schemes, whereby employees may disregard their own wellbeing to attain, for instance, no-medical leave (taken) incentives, or such allowances at a workplace.
Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Shahira Abdullah had asked Minister Tan whether the Ministry has data on the prevalence of no-medical leave incentives and penalties across industries; and whether such policies contravene existing employment laws in Singapore.
Meanwhile, MP Leon Perera asked if Ministry of Manpower (MOM) tracks the number of companies that give employees an attendance allowance; whether MOM can consider mandating companies to suspend this practice, or consider consider further safeguards to ensure sick employees are not disincentivised to take medical leave.
In response to both MP's questions, Minister Tan shared that the Ministry does "not collect data" on the prevalence of attendance-related incentive schemes, as such schemes "may have emerged over time" as a way to help deter malingering, and instil a more disciplined workforce. That said, the tripartite partners are of the view that attendance-related schemes that consider sick leave utilisation should no longer be seen as a reasonable or fair practice.
"As a matter of principle, if an employee is unwell, he should seek medical attention, firstly for his own wellbeing, and secondly, for the wellbeing of his co-workers. To the extent that attendance incentive schemes discourage the taking of sick leave, even if unintentionally, it contradicts the overriding principle to protect the wellbeing of workers," he added.
Minister Tan further explained that, today's standards, the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) require employers to appraise, and remunerate employees in a fair, and objective manner, taking into consideration the employees’ performance and contributions.
He said that for the avoidance of doubt, the Ministry, starting next year, "will make clear" that appraising or remunerating employees based on consumption of sick leave entitlement goes against this principle, and the tripartite partners "will clarify this point" to all stakeholders.
At the moment, Minister Tan shared that the tripartite partners have been actively working with companies that have these schemes to restructure them into productivity and welfare schemes that do not take into account sick leave, and that "companies have made progress" as some have adjusted their schemes to provide wellness benefits, which contribute to employees’ wellbeing and productivity.
In addition to companies, the Ministry will also work with "other trade associations and chambers" to clarify the understanding of the TGFEP, and will allow all companies some time to review, and make adjustments where necessary.