More allowed to return to workplace from Sept 28: Do I have to go back to office if my boss asks me to?

More people will be allowed to return to the office from Sept 28, 2020.
More people will be allowed to return to the office from Sept 28, 2020.PHOTO: JACQUELINE YE

SINGAPORE - From next Monday (Sept 28), more people will be allowed to return to the office in the most significant easing of restrictions at workplaces since the circuit breaker was imposed in April.

This is because Singapore has managed to keep the number of Covid-19 cases in the community relatively low, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Here are the answers to some questions you may have about the new guidelines.

1. Can my boss require me to return to the office even if my job can be performed from home and I prefer doing so?

Yes. However, your employer should ensure that you are working from home for at least half your working time. This should be calculated over a "reasonable period of time" not exceeding four weeks.

If you are a part-time worker, the requirement will be pro-rated. For example, if you work three days a week, you should be in the office only 1.5 days a week.

Your employer should also make sure that not more than half the people who can work from home are in the office at any one time.

2. I want to go back to the office full-time because my home is not conducive for work. Can I do so?

As long as your job can be done from home, you should be working from home at least half the time. Employers will need to demonstrate the business or operational reasons for why staff cannot work from home, despite reviewing work processes and arrangements.

3. Will my leave days count towards the total number of days I spend working from home?

Yes. For example, if you normally work a five-day week, you are allowed to go back to the office for 2.5 days every week. If you decide to take two days of leave that week, your boss can still require you to go back to the office for 2.5 days. You will then spend the remaining half day working from home.

4. I have to attend external meetings and events for work. Are these counted towards the number of days I spend in the office?

Yes. As working from home continues to be the default, work or training done outside the office will be regarded as time spent in the workplace.

5. My boss wants me to go back to the office for regular meetings. Is this allowed?

Yes, although the Government has said that meetings should be conducted virtually as far as possible. Physical meetings between employees and suppliers or contractors should be minimised.

One example of a flexible work arrangement would be for staff to go back to the office only for meetings, and work from home for the rest of the day.

6. I have a chronic medical condition that has weakened my immune system. What should I do if I have to go back to the office?

Employers should pay special attention to workers who are more vulnerable to the virus. Your employer should make arrangements such as allowing you to work from home and providing IT equipment if necessary, or temporarily redeploying you to another role within the company.

If there is no way to make alternative arrangements, your employer can still require you to return to the office. However, they must ensure that there is at least 1m of space between you and your colleagues.

This applies to people who have compromised immune systems, concurrent medical conditions, or who are aged 60 and above.


There must be at least 1m of space between employees in the office. PHOTO: ST FILE

7. Since I am going back to the office, does that mean I can interact with colleagues as usual?

No. You have to wear a mask at all times, unless the nature of your work or the work environment makes doing so prohibitive. You should be at least 1m apart from your colleagues in the office, including at your workstation and during meetings.

You should also not gather in groups larger than the prevailing permitted group size for social gatherings, even during meals or smoke breaks.


People should not gather in groups larger than the prevailing permitted group size for social gatherings, even during meals or smoke breaks. PHOTO: ST FILE

8. According to the latest update, work-related events of up to 50 people can now take place in the office. What is considered a work-related event?

Work-related events include meetings, training sessions, townhalls, corporate retreats, tender briefings to vendors and business conferences, as well as onboarding or retrenchment exercises.

They do not include celebrations, parties, dinner and dance events, team bonding activities or gala dinners. Employers should not organise or encourage social gatherings within or outside the office.

In addition, food and drinks should not be served at such events as far as possible. If deemed necessary, workers must be seated and served individually, and meal durations kept short.

9. I am an employer. With more staff allowed to come back to the workplace, how can I avoid crowding?

You should stagger start times, such that at least half your employees reach the office at or after 10am.

You should also implement flexible workplace arrangements, for instance, arranging for some employees to work from home in the morning but return to the office from 1pm to 5pm. Alternatively, you could require them to return to the office only for meetings.

If possible, you should implement shift or split team operations, and ensure that there is no mixing of employees from the different teams.


Employers could require employees to return to the office only for meetings. PHOTO: ST FILE

10. Can I hold religious ceremonies, such as prayers, at the workplace?

Yes, but only with up to 30 people at a time, or fewer if there is insufficient space for safe-distancing.

Everyone should wear a mask and keep 1m apart. Meals are prohibited, and singing and other live performances are also not allowed.

11. My employer is breaking the rules. How can I report this?

You can do so via the SnapSAFE app, which can be found in the App Store or the Google Play Store.

Have more questions on returning to the workplace? E-mail us at askst@sph.com.sg