Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has taken a stance against incentive schemes that penalise employees for using sick leave or reward them for coming to work sick. In a parliamentary session on 14 February, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that such schemes, common in low-wage jobs, “should no longer be seen as a reasonable or fair practice”.
The issue of employers offering additional payouts to workers who do not take medical leave, or even penalising those who do utilise it, has been generally swept under the table in Singapore. There are no specific restrictions or guidelines around this practice, nor does MOM collect data on it. Dr. Tan speculated in his parliamentary reply that the practice may have arisen as a way to deter malingering, but pointed out that it is counterproductive when it harms workers' well-being.
“As a matter of principle, if an employee is unwell, he should seek medical attention, firstly for his own well-being, and secondly, for the well-being of his co-workers,” Dr. Tan said. “To the extent that attendance incentive schemes discourage the taking of sick leave, even if unintentionally, it contradicts the overriding principle to protect the well-being of workers.”
The practice came under increased scrutiny - and criticism - over the last two years as concerns rose that low-wage workers would avoid COVID testing and the resultant quarantine if positive, so that their income would not be affected. And it made the headlines last month, when a 60-year-old worker earning $1,500 a month was sentenced to jail for not staying home and taking a COVID test despite having a cough for several weeks, because he did not want to lose out on a $100 incentive for not taking medical leave.
According to the minister, MOM will "clarify" to employers and stakeholders, including trade and industry associations, that this practice does in fact go against existing fair employment guidelines.