New mandatory guidelines for flexible work arrangement requests to be effective from December 1, 2024, in Singapore

The Government has accepted the new guidelines on flexible work arrangement (“FWA”) requests, as stated in a release[1] from the Ministry of Manpower dated April 16, 2024. The release indicates that “employers are expected to abide by the guidelines”, and that they would come into force as of December 1, 2024.

The guidelines were established by the Tripartite Workgroup, composed of the Ministry of Manpower, the Singapore National Employers Federation, and the National Trades Union Congress.  Aiming to reconcile business productivity and employee well-being, the guidelines were developed jointly with businesses, HR experts, and trade unions.

While employers retain the authority to determine work arrangements, the guidelines make it easier for employees to request flexible work arrangements.

  1. What are the key features of the new guidelines?

The guidelines clarify what may constitute flexible work arrangements, possibly telecommuting, work from home, flexi-hours, compressed work schedule, job sharing or part-time work. The various forms that work arrangements can take should allow employers to respond to their employees’ requests for FWAs while continuing to meet their sector specific needs and operational requirements. Incidentally, employers are encouraged to provide necessary support to employees to facilitate their FWAs requests. This may involve providing them with the appropriate technology, resources and skills.

When employers have implemented FWAs opportunities or when employees request a work arrangement, the guidelines strongly encourage employers to engage in open discussions with their employees to find the most suitable arrangement.

As the implementation of FWAs is to be fair and reasonable, the guidelines suggest that employers set clear expectations regarding deliverables and the operational needs. Thus, employees can tailor their FWAs requests. The decision-making process should be transparent, with employers providing valid reasons when unable to accommodate certain requests. Subsequently, to meet the evolving needs of both employer and employee, the implementation of FWAs calls for feedback and review discussion where need be. Such open communication ensures that employees are assessed solely based on their performance, and it allows to maintain business productivity.

  1. How can employees request FWAs?

The guidelines encourage employees to initiate discussions with their employers regarding flexible work arrangements. When the latter are implemented in the company, employers should have a process for employees to submit formal requests, such as through a work portal or email, however they are not obliged to have one.  The guidelines suggest that any employee who has passed probation can submit formal requests. Such a request should include details such as working hours, location and duration. Employers are expected to review these requests within two months taking into consideration operational requirements and business needs.

Employers can reject a request, but their decision must be based on reasonable business-related grounds. If so, they are also encouraged to propose alternative arrangements.

  1. What are the implications of the new guidelines for employers and employees?

While the guidelines do not require employers to offer FWAs to employees, they encourage employers to do so. In that instance, when employers implement FWAs, they must be mindful of the legal obligations arising therefrom.

No penalties per se are mentioned in the guidelines for employers. However, to clarify queries on the guidelines, the Singapore National Employers Federation stated that “the Ministry of Manpower may issue a warning and require employers to attend corrective workshops only in cases where employers are recalcitrant and/or willfully refuse to comply with the guidelines even after rounds of educational efforts by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices[2].

As the guidelines are mandatory, employees who feel unfairly treated or discriminated against in the implementation of flexible work arrangements may complain to the Ministry of Manpower or file a claim. This could affect the company’s reputation.

Moreover, non-compliance with the guidelines by the employer may lead to a loss of employee confidence resulting in decreased productivity and leaving the workforce. In the long run, this could result in decreased talent attraction, company’s competitiveness and profitability.

Conclusion

Employers should take these guidelines into serious consideration, as they are bound to change the dynamics of the workplace. Indeed, with their focus on greater flexibility, communication, employee’s wellbeing and technological relevance, these mandatory guidelines mark an evolution of work culture in Singapore.

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[1] Ministry of Manpower. “Tripartite Guidelines that Shape the Right Norms and Expectations Around Flexible Work Arrangements to Come into Effect on 1 Dec 2024”. (2024, 16 April). Ministry of Manpower Online. www.mom.gov.sg.

[2] FAQs on Singapore’s upcoming guidelines on flexible work arrangement requests. (2024, 24 April). Human Resources Online. https://www.humanresourcesonline.net/faqs-on-singapore-s-upcoming-guidelines-on-flexible-work-arrangement-requests.

Astrip Cippe | Inès Guermouche

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