As much as many of us love being at home, some of us are waiting for this MCO to end so that we can go back to work. All of us know that during this MCO, we’re not supposed to leave our homes unless necessary, and only those who work in essential services are allowed to go to their workplaces. However, there have been a number of people who have claimed that they’ve been made to go to work despite not being in an essential service. We got quite a few of these comments on our page:
At first glance, it does seem like these employers are breaking the law for forcing employees to come to the office, unless of course, they’re in an essential service. But what exactly is an ‘essential service’? The first thing that would come to our minds are professions such as doctors and nurses, police and army officers as well as food and grocery outlets. But the definition of an ‘essential service’ is actually a lot broader than we think.
The list of essential services isn’t really fixed
Just as the MCO started, the government released a set of regulations to be followed during Covid-19, known as the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures Within the Infection Local Areas) Regulations 2020. Under these regulations, there’s a list of a services that are considered essential, and so anyone working under those can continue performing their duties as usual during the pandemic. Here’s the full list:
We have an Industrial Relations Act 1967 (IRA) that also has a list of essential services. But since the 2020 Regulations are newer, we’ll have to go by the list of essential services in that one. This new list is significantly longer than the one in the IRA, and the government has added some new essential services, such as hotels and e-commerce to the list.
If you look at number 22 in the image above, you’ll notice that the Minister has the right to approve more services to operate during the MCO. This will depend on the circumstances, as a service that is not essential now may be essential later. So, even if your line of work does not fall under the list of services you see above, if you’re currently going to work, it may be because your job is now considered to be essential, and your employer has obtained the permit for you to work during the MCO.
Besides the permit from the government, your boss has to provide you with a letter of authorization from the company stating why you need to work. This letter is for you to show the police if you are stopped at a roadblock during the MCO.
Basically, it’s not uncommon for certain professions to be working during this period, even if they usually are not essential. But the government has ordered that even those who can go to work should be well-protected. Employers of such services are supposed to minimise the number of employees they have in the office and provide hand sanitisers and face masks for them.
But, what about other companies that totally can’t be considered as essential services—can they go to work if they really need to?
Some staff can come to work on certain days only
While many companies have resorted to working from home during the MCO, there may be some forms of work that are just impossible for employees to do from the comfort of their homes.
One good example of this would be the finance and HR departments of companies, especially when it’s time for salary payouts. So, on March 30th 2020, the Human Resource Ministry said that you could to go work if you worked under these specific departments in your company. However, there are strict conditions to be met:
- only TWO staff members can enter the office
- you can only enter the office for ONE day at the end of the month (the 30th or 31st)
- your boss must give you a letter of authorization stating why you need to work for that day
So, if you absolutely need to go in to the office, and your job is tied to keeping the company afloat, you are allowed to clock in. Just ensure that you meet the requirements above so that you don’t get caught breaking the law.
If you’re being forced to work, make a police report
If you’ve read this far and you’re being made to go to work (in your office) even though you:
- don’t belong to an essential service OR
- don’t need to go in to the office to process payrolls or other important functions
- don’t have a permit or letter of authorisation to work during the MCO
It only means that your boss is breaking the law by not letting you work from home. Since the MCO began, the Home Ministry has reported that many employers have been misusing the term ‘essential service’ and issuing letters of authorization for their staff just to make them come to work. If this is what your boss has been doing, you’ll need to quickly get in touch with the police themselves to deal with the matter.
Under the 2020 Infectious Disease Regulations, an employer who deliberately makes his staff come to the office when they’re not supposed to will be fined heftily or even jailed. Section 7 of the Regulations says:
But that section also goes on to say:
So, even if it was some other authority in your company that’s forcing you to work in the office, they can be penalised the same way.