Is Your Business Covid Ready? A Checklist for Organisations.

The restrictions and directives that marking this Circuit-Breaker period apply not only to individuals, but also to businesses and companies. These government-enforced measures took effect since 7 April 202o, and are expected to last until 4 May 2020 (may be extended if required).

The measures can be found in  the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 (the“Act”) and the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations (the “Regulations”).

Under these measures, most businesses must suspend operations, unless they fall under what is deemed to be “essential services”. And even if you are a business owner providing essential services, you must take all reasonable steps to ensure safe distancing in your business premises for your customers, staff and personnel who provide deliveries or other services to your premises failing which you can be fined or imprisoned.

If you are a business owner, the following summary go the measures that apply to businesses in this period may be useful to you.

What are essential services?

Only providers of essential services can continue operating at their physical premises (Regulation 10(1)). Under Regulation 2(1), essential services include any provision of goods or services specified on this website: https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/essentialservices/.

If you are a non-essential provider, you and your staff can only work from home and telecommute if you need to continue operations (Regulation 11). If you need to return to your workplace to perform crucial tasks that cannot be done remotely or to retrieve necessary materials, you can only do so by applying for a time-limited exemption at https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/.

If my business is an essential service, can all my staff come to work?

No, only those staff who must be at your premises. Even though you are providing an essential service, you should let staff work from home unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so (Regulation 13D).  For example, if you are an online supermarket, your administrative and IT staff must work from home and not be sitting together in the office, but your warehousing staff and drivers can be at your premises since they need to pack and deliver the goods.

Common sense should prevail here: the million-dollar question to ask is if a particular staff member can discharge his/her duties ably from home. If the answer is yes, then he/she must work from home. It does not matter that the business does not have the adequate hardware or technology that allows staff to work from home; that is not a valid reason or excuse. For example, a business cannot say that, while work can be performed from home, its employees have been issued with desktops and not laptops. And, based on that, the business summons its employees back to the office. That is not legal. In fact, companies and organisations facing a situation like this have been known to make their employees bring home desktops from the office.

Aside essential goods or services, you are not allowed to hold any activity involving your staff and other individuals in your premises, unless such activity is critical to your business or operations, or involves the professional or vocational training, testing, certification or accreditation of your staff (Regulation 13F).

How do I ensure safe distancing in my premises for my staff?

If you require your staff to work in your premises, you must take the following steps:

  • As far as reasonably practicable, divide your staff into two or more groups (Team A, Team B ) to minimise physical interaction between the groups (Regulation 13E(1)(a));
  • As far as reasonably practicable, ensure that your staff do not all arrive at and leave your premises at the same time (Regulation 13E(1)(b)) – for example, some staff can start work at 9 am and some at 10 am and leave at 5 pm or 6 pm respectively;
  • Ensure that all staff who come into frequent contact with members of the public are wearing masks;
  • Take the temperature of your staff before they enter your premises (Regulation 10B(b)) and encourage the regular taking of temperatures throughout their shifts (see the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) FAQs at https://www.mom.gov.sg/covid-19/frequently-asked-questions#precautionary-measures);
  • Ensure that any staff exhibiting any specified symptom(s) (i.e. coughing, sneezing, breathlessness and/or runny nose) or is physically unwell reports to you (directly or indirectly) immediately upon the onset of such symptom(s) ((Regulation 13E(1)(c));
  • Ensure that there is a distance of at least one metre between any two individuals (including both staff and customers) in your premises (Regulation 13E(1)(d));
  • For mealtimes:
    • Ensure that there are suitable sheltered spaces in your premises for your staff to consume meals;
    • Ensure that your staff dine alone and keep at least one metre away from others (this may mean closing common dining areas such as break rooms and pantries and having staff eat at their desks);
    • Stagger meal times to reduce interactions between your staff and prevent congregation;
    • Ensure that your staff dine quickly and keep their eating spaces clean after consuming their meals;

If you provide transport for your staff to and from your premises, you must also ensure that your staff are seated at least one metre apart (Regulation 13I).

In light of news that five McDonald’s employees have been infected with COVID-19 which has led to the closure of four outlets (https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coronavirus-covid-19-mcdonalds-employees-diagnosed-outlets-close-12635516), the importance of implementing the above measures to protect your staff at work during these difficult times cannot be emphasized enough.

My business involves selling things or providing services to the public. What steps must I take?

If you provide goods or services to the public in this period, e.g. sell food, groceries, operate a clinic or hair salon etc, you are required to take certain steps to ensure safe distancing among your staff and customers. These steps are (Regulations 10B and 12):

  • Allow natural ventilation of your premises during working hours, as far as reasonably practicable (which may mean turning off the air-con, opening windows, and using fans);
  • Perform temperature checks on every individual entering your premises and visually ascertain if the individual displays any specified symptom(s);
  • Obtain and keep the contact particulars of every individual (except your staff at the premises) for the purposes of contact tracing before allowing him/her to enter your premises;
  • Refuse entry into your premises of any individual who has a fever or exhibits a specified symptom(s);
  • If any individual who is already within your premises is found to have a fever or to exhibit the specified symptom(s):
    • Provide him/her with a mask;
    • Require him/her to immediately leave your premises; or
    • Isolate him/her if he/she is not able to immediately leave the premises;
  • Refuse entry into your premises of any individual whom you know or have reason to believe is subject to a movement control measure;
  • Refuse entry into your premises of any individual who is not your staff, customer or someone supplying an essential service to you;
  • If your premises have seats fixed to the floor, ensure that alternate seats are demarcated as seats to not be occupied;
  • If your premises have seats not fixed to the floor, ensure that each seat is at least one metre away from any other seat at all times;
  • If your customers form a queue or wait in an area within your premises, ensure that every individual in the queue or area is at least one metre away from any other individual (including staff and other customers).

If you are running a supermarket, convenience store, pharmacy or shopping mall, you must now allow customers without masks to enter the premises. This will likely require you to deploy manpower at the entrance to turn away people who do not wear masks. It would also help for you to display a prominent notice to this effect.

If you run a food-and-beverage business, all your employees (especially those who handle food) must wear masks. They should not handle food if they are unwell. This applies to food-delivery companies and personnel. If you do not comply, you may be fined up to $5,000 and your licence may be revoked.

There are also regulations concerning receiving deliveries and disposing waste:

  • You must ensure that the deliveries do not arrive at the same time and only remain in your premises for as long as is required for their duties (Regulation 13E(2)).
  • They must also remain at least one metre away from any other individual (be it among themselves or with your staff/customers) at all times.
  • All such practices must also be communicated to the people involved, i.e. delivery personnel, your staff etc. (Regulation 13G(b)).

What happens if I breach these rules?

Under section 34(7) of the Act, any business owner found in breach of the safe distancing rules has committed an offence. First-time offenders can be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed up to 6 months, while second or subsequent offences can lead to a fine of up to $20,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months.

The Government has not hesitated in taking action against businesses who flout safe distancing rules. On 9 April 2020, bubble tea shop Playmade at Waterway Point was the first establishment to be fined $1,000 for failing to implement a crowd management system and allowing customers to crowd within one metre of each other, despite repeated warnings (https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid-19-coronavirus-circuit-breaker-stern-warnings-shops-close-12626200). Three other F&B establishments have since been handed similar fines for similarly failing to implement the proper safe distancing measures despite several warnings (https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coronavirus-covid-19-businesses-fined-jollibee-putien-12635742).

As of 10 April 2020, more than 200 businesses have been ordered to cease for either remaining open despite providing non-essential services or for failing to enforce safe distancing measures properly despite providing essential services (https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/more-than-200-businesses-ordered-shut-for-breaching-rules).

The Government is serious about this, and you should be as well.

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