Can you force staff to stay home during a tropical storm?

by Miklos Bolza26 May 2016
If a tropical storm knocks out your building’s power or floods surround the office, it is possible to ask workers to remain home, said Dayne Ho, partner at Shook Lin & Bok.
“In Singapore, such matters are normally handled in accordance with the employment agreement.”
In these situations, employers would typically have to issue a directive to staff asking them to remain at home.
“This directive is relatively simple,” Ho said. “It’s a short email to employees and, from what I’ve seen in the past, appears to be a very friendly, casual kind of message.”
As for costs during this time, Ho said there is a difference between how short and long-term events are handled. This was highlighted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in last year’s haze period, he said.
“MOM’s stance on the recent haze issue is also instructive as they have indicated that the costs of a short-term suspension of business arising from such a disaster should be borne by the employer while longer-term suspensions should be negotiated with the employee.”
Unless there are specific provisions in the employment contract, an employer cannot force staff to use their annual leave during this time, he said.
Employers also cannot force staff to take time off without pay during disasters.
“The employer actually needs to strike a balance between the welfare of their employees versus the economic costs of asking them to stay home.”
Firms which do withhold wages in these situations may be liable to legal action if the worker is not covered by the Employment Act or investigation by MOM if they are.
As for added benefits such as ‘disaster leave’, this would be offered as a matter of goodwill to staff, Ho said.
“What would be important in such situations is to ensure that such leave is solely offered on a discretionary basis. This ensures it is not treated as precedent for future events and does not give rise to erroneous expectations on the part of employees.”
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