14 April 2020
These are unusual times.
On 07 April 2020, in an attempt to reduce the number of coronavirus infections in Singapore, the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020 (the “Control Order”) was passed and immediately came into effect, prohibiting movement and requiring all individuals to stay home subject to certain exceptions, from 07 April 2020 to 04 May 2020 (both dates inclusive) (the “Control Period”).
With no way for employees to go to work or customers to visit storefronts or offices during this circuit-breaker, the Control Order has hit businesses hard – particularly those with legacy infrastructure requiring on-site operations, or with operations that cannot be conducted remotely.
One of the exceptions to the general prohibition on movement is for provision of essential services. Pursuant to section 4(3)(a) of the Control Order, an individual may leave their home to work for or with an essential service provider.
The Control Order defines “essential service provider” as:
(a) the Government or any public body;
(b) a person who provides any essential service; or
(c) a person who is given permission by the Minister charged with the responsibility for domestic business policies to provide certain goods or services, for the period or from the date stated in the permit.
An “essential service” is in turn defined as:
(a) any provision of goods or services by the Government or any public body in the exercise of its public functions; or
(b) any provision of goods or services specified on the prescribed website.
The “prescribed website” referred to above is the Gobusiness Covid website operated by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (“MTI”) at https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/ (the “Website”).
The Website provides a list of goods or services deemed as “essential services”. Some of the services deemed to be “essential” include:
The exhaustive list of essential services can be found here.
Businesses providing essential services (“Essential Businesses”) can continue to perform those essential services and operate from their workplace premises with safe-distancing and other precautionary measures in place during the Control Period.
In addition to the list of essential services, the Website provides two online forms for exemption from suspension of activities – the General Exemption, and the Time-Limited Exemption.
The General Exemption permits employees of a business to leave their homes and work from the business’s workplace premises during the Control Period, pursuant to section 4(3)(a) of the Control Order.
The General Exemption is to be used in two scenarios:
1. Declaration for companies which provide essential services
Essential Business are still required to make a declaration that they provide essential services and register themselves on the Website through the General Exemption application portal, notwithstanding that they already fall within one of the categories of essential services listed on the Website. Once registered, the Essential Business can continue to conduct on-premise business activities at its workplace during the Control Period unless otherwise directed by MTI.
MTI can issue a suspension order in respect of declarations submitted by Essential Businesses, upon which the Essential Business must cease all on-premise activities.
2. Application for exemption from suspension of business activities
The default position is that businesses that do not provide essential services (“Non-Essential Businesses”) cannot conduct on-premise operations during the Control Period. However, a Non-Essential Business may apply to be exempted from the suspension of on-premise business activities through the General Exemption application portal. If the exemption is granted, the Non-Essential Business will be able to commence on-premise business activities during the Control Period.
The Time-Limited Exemption is to be used where a business has temporary but critical needs which require a time-limited exemption for employees to work on-site. Only four applications for time-limited exemptions can be made during the Control Period. At present, it is unclear whether additional time-limited exemption applications will be granted if the Control Period is extended.
The intent behind the Time-Limited Exemption is to allow a small number of employees to work on-premise at the business’s workplace or other designated location for short periods of time (i.e. less than a day). The number of employees permitted under a Time-Limited Exemption should not exceed 10 persons or 25% of the total number of employees, whichever is lower.
In other words, a Time-Limited Exemption is unsuitable for getting approval to work at the office for long hours, multiple days, or with larger groups of employees. If this is your intention, you should apply for the General Exemption.
The Time-Limited Exemption application should be made one day before the intended date of the exemption (i.e. if you wish to activate a small group of employees to work on-premises on 15 April 2020, you should submit the Time-Limited Exemption application on 14 April 2020).
Appeals and Application for Amendment
Unfortunately, there is no way to appeal an application for a General Exemption that has been rejected (or where an Essential Business that has submitted a declaration under the General Exemption has been issued a suspension order).
However, you can submit an Application for Amendment through the Website. The Application for Amendment allows you to update MTI with additional information describing the amendments proposed, in relation to your application for a General Exemption. If the Application for Amendment is successful, MTI will notify you that you may conduct or continue on-premise activities during the Control Period, and that this supersedes any earlier replies from MTI.
While the exact criteria for a successful General Exemption application is not clearly defined, anecdotal evidence suggests that successful applicants must propose workplace arrangements with low numbers of employees, and provide well-defined and limited work matters that are clearly urgent and cannot be carried out from home. Conversely, applications for General Exemptions with proposals for larger numbers of employees or broadly-defined work matters that are not overtly urgent are less likely to receive approval.
This is also consistent with the intent of the Control Order, which is to limit interaction between individuals of different households as much as possible in order to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
We hope this is helpful.
Stay safe, stay home, and feel free to contact us if you need any assistance. We will continue to be available via video-conferencing, teleconferencing, and email throughout this challenging period.
* Note: We have published an update in view of the changes made to the https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/ Website. You can read the update here.
Associate Director, BR Law Corporation
Post date. Edit this to change the date post was posted. Does not show up on published site. 14/4/2020
The materials in these articles have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. If you require legal advice for your particular circumstances, please consult a suitably qualified legal counsel. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not rely or act upon this information without seeking professional counsel. Whilst we endeavour to ensure that the information in these articles is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and we do not accept any liability for error or omission.
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