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On 16 April 2024, Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Request (Guidelines) will come into effect on 1 December 2024 and replace the existing Tripartite Advisory on Flexible Work Arrangements issued in 2014 as well as the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements introduced in 2017.

Under the Guidelines, which set out how employees should request for FWAs and use them and how employers should handle FWA requests, employers are required to fairly consider formal requests for flexible work arrangements (FWAs).

FWAs

Under the Guidelines, FWAs are defined as work arrangements where employers and employees agree to a variation from a standard work arrangement. The three broad categories of FWAs are:

  • flexi-place (eg telecommuting, work-from-home);
  • flexi-time (eg staggered work hours, compressed work schedules); and
  • flexi-load (eg job sharing, part-time work).

Eligibility

Employees who have completed probation can submit a formal FWA request which must be considered by their employers. While employers can consider FWA requests from employees on probation, they are not required to do so.

To help manage jobseekers' expectations on the available FWAs, employers are encouraged to state in job advertisements and interviews what their FWA policy or approach to FWAs is.

Making a formal FWA request

Employers should have a clear process for employees to submit formal FWA requests which sets out any specific requirements that employees must comply with when submitting formal FWA requests (eg method of submission, format/template, required information).

Where an employer has not stipulated the requirements or process for submitting a formal FWA request, their employee may make a formal FWA request in writing. The request should minimally include the following information:

  • date of request;
  • the FWA requested for, including frequency and duration;
  • reason for request; and
  • requested start date and end date (if applicable).

A FWA request will be considered invalid and will not be covered under the Guidelines if it:

  • does not comply with the employer's stipulated requirements or process for formal FWA requests;
  • is not in writing, or does not include the minimum information set out above.

To assist employees in assessing their suitability for FWAs, employers are encouraged to communicate:

  • the FWAs that employees can request for;
  • the reasons why certain job roles might not be suitable for certain FWAs;
  • examples of why formal FWA requests might be rejected; and
  • their expectations regarding FWAs (eg work safety, employee deliverables or evaluation).

Considering a formal FWA request

Employers should provide a written decision approving or rejecting the formal FWA request within two months from receiving it.

Each formal FWA request should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. When considering a formal FWA request, employers should:

  • engage the employee on any clarifications and discussions on the request in an open and constructive manner;
  • focus on factors related to the employee's job, such as how the requested FWA may affect the business or the employee's performance of their job; and
  • as far as reasonably practicable, explore ways to accommodate the request. This could include reviewing work processes or reassigning work across team members to ensure minimal impact to the organisation's productivity or output.

While employers are entitled to reject formal FWA requests, any rejection should be based on reasonable business grounds (eg nature of job role, increase in cost or decrease in productivity/output) and not due to personal bias against FWAs. Employers are encouraged to discuss alternatives with the relevant employee if the FWA request is rejected.

Key Takeaways

Currently, there is no formal mechanism to resolve disputes arising out of FWA requests between employers and employees. It would be interesting to see whether the Employment Claims Tribunal's jurisdiction may be expanded in the future to cover disputes relating to FWA.

That said, employees may file a complaint to the MOM or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). Employers that are found to be non-compliant with the Guidelines may be issued with a warning from the MOM or required to attend corrective workshops.

The Guidelines also emphasise the need to have a clear policy in place. The Guidelines provide that, where there is no policy in place, a request made by way of a text message may be considered a formal FWA request which must be considered fairly and decided within two months in accordance with the Guidelines. In the absence of a policy, there could be situations where FWA requests are not responded to appropriately or in a timely manner, which could trigger sanctions by MOM.

In preparing a policy, employers will need to put in place certain guardrails around the FWAs that may be offered. In particular, as regards requests for flexi-place arrangements, employers will need to consider the extent to which remote working from outside Singapore may be permitted given the potential legal and tax ramifications. Employers should also consider building in a mechanism to suspend or terminate ongoing FWAs for business or performance management reasons.

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP provides access to Singapore law advice through our Formal Law Alliance with Prolegis LLC.

 

Fatim Jumabhoy photo

Fatim Jumabhoy

Managing Partner, Singapore, Singapore

Fatim Jumabhoy
Nurul Ayu Fajarani photo

Nurul Ayu Fajarani

Associate, Singapore

Nurul Ayu Fajarani

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Fatim Jumabhoy photo

Fatim Jumabhoy

Managing Partner, Singapore, Singapore

Fatim Jumabhoy
Nurul Ayu Fajarani photo

Nurul Ayu Fajarani

Associate, Singapore

Nurul Ayu Fajarani
Fatim Jumabhoy Nurul Ayu Fajarani