FAQs on Singapore’s Tripartite Guidelines for Flexible Work Arrangements

FAQs on Singapore’s Tripartite Guidelines for Flexible Work Arrangements

FAQs on Singapore’s Tripartite Guidelines for Flexible Work Arrangements

Since the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests (TG-FWAR) were introduced, some media coverage, particularly by foreign press, has garnered attention. According to these reports, an impression was created that Singapore is for a shift towards a four-day work week with potentially reduced work hours or productivity.

Among the concerns raised, some of these recurring questions include:

  1. Will the implementation of flexible work arrangements (FWAs) be legally enforced? Can employers reject an FWA request?
  2. What does the application and review process for FWA entail?
  3. Does implementing FWA mean moving to a universal four-day work week and remote work arrangements?
  4. Are there penalties or legal consequences for businesses that do not adhere to these Tripartite Guidelines?

In this blog, we’ll explore what the TG-FWAR actually entails to clarify these concerns and any potential misunderstandings about its implications for businesses and employees in Singapore.


Q1: Are Businesses Mandated to Implement FWA? Can Employers Reject an FWA Request?

The Tripartite Workgroup has clarified that the guidelines encourage, rather than mandate, businesses to establish a process for evaluating employees’ FWA requests. In essence, it governs the process rather than the outcomes and is not prescriptive but seeks to facilitate open discussions about FWAs. Therefore, employers have the right to reject requests based on valid business reasons and are not obligated to approve the same FWAs for all employees within the company.

Should the implementation of FWAs adversely impact business operations, it is also reasonable for an employer to discuss and possibly adjust an employee’s remuneration in line with the changes. This ensures that FWAs are beneficial and sustainable for both individuals and organisations.


Q2: What Does the FWA Application and Review Process Cover?

The TG-FWAR applies to employees who have completed their probation.

For Employees: Individuals who wish to apply for an FWA must submit a formal request in writing. Employees should adhere to the process outlined by their employer or provide information pertinent to the employer’s assessment if no process is specified.

Such requests typically involve recurring arrangements that extend over a longer period or necessitate changes in work processes rather than ad-hoc requests to avoid increasing administrative burdens. Although these Tripartite Guidelines do not cover informal requests, they should be allowed and evaluated upon mutual agreement.

For Employers: When a request is received, employers must provide a written response within two months. If employers reject a request, they should also offer valid business reasons directly linked to business outcomes to support their decision.


Examples of Valid Reasons

Examples of Unreasonable Grounds for Rejection

  • Cost considerations.
  • Impact on quantity or quality of output.
  • Feasibility or practicality-related challenges.
  • Incompatibility of the FWA with the nature of the employee’s job.
  • The company does not believe in FWAs.
  • It is not in the company’s tradition to offer FWAs.
  • Managers prefer to maintain direct oversight of employees to ensure they are working, despite employees’ consistently satisfactory performance.
  • Managers do not want to start allowing FWAs to prevent encouraging more employees from making similar requests.

 Employers are also encouraged to discuss alternative arrangements with the said employees.


Q3: Does FWA Mean a Universal Four-Day Work Week and Remote Work Arrangements?

staggered and hybrid work arrangement singapore

FWAs are not synonymous with shifting to a four-day work week, nor are they confined to remote work arrangements.

Rather, they also include options that fall under any of the three main categories below:

  • Flexi-place: This entails giving employees the flexibility to work from locations apart from the office, which includes working at home or other premises for all or part of their workweek.
  • Flexi-time: This includes staggered working hours, allowing employees to compress their work weeks or choose flexible start and end times without affecting their total work hours or workload.
  • Flexi-load: This entails assigning employees different workloads and adjusting their compensation accordingly. Options like job sharing or part-time work are typical examples.

In other words, it means that a “four-day work week” could be flexibly implemented in several ways

  1. Employees continue to work 40 hours per week but change from a five-day, eight-hour schedule to a four-day, 10-hour schedule.
  2. Employees reduce their weekly hours from 40 to 32 and complete 80% of their usual workload, with their remuneration adjusted accordingly.
  3. Employees reduce their weekly hours from 40 to 32, but their workload and remuneration remain unchanged.

Understanding that not all FWAs are suitable for every job or industry, the TG-FWAR does not mandate employers to offer specific work arrangements. Instead, it allows employers to exercise discretion based on their unique business needs.

While the benefits of FWAs may not be immediately obvious for businesses as for employees, there is also a compelling case for their implementation from an employer’s perspective. As Singapore’s population ages, employers face two challenges: a slowing growth in the talent pool and a greater likelihood of employees leaving the workforce prematurely to care for the elderly.

Adding to this is the existing challenges of women leaving the workforce primarily for family caregiving responsibilities. While the female labour participation rate improved to 76.6% in 2023, approximately 260,000 working-age women remain unemployed, representing significant untapped potential. These challenges could intensify competition among employers to attract and retain top talent in the long run if unaddressed.

However, adopting FWAs can mitigate these issues by lowering the barriers for caregivers and women to juggle their dual responsibilities. At the same time, it supports seniors in re-entering the labour market or continuing to contribute to the workforce, albeit flexibly. By implementing such a humanised HR policy, employers can benefit from having access to a wider pool of talent and better meet their labour needs through efficient HR management.

More importantly, such work arrangements contribute to a more inclusive workplace. Given that flexible work arrangements are increasingly viewed as a hygiene factor by employees, having them can also enhance an employer’s ability to attract and retain top talent.


Q4: Will Employers Be Penalised for Complying with the TG-FWAR?

At its core, the guidelines adopt an educational and enabling approach, aiming to provide employees and employers with the resources and skills to utilise and assess FWAs responsibly. As such, the policy will not be enforced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) but will be facilitated by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

For instance, employees whose employers fail to follow the guidelines can seek assistance from TAFEP regarding formal FWA requests. If an employee remains unsatisfied with the outcomes when the employer has adhered to the TG-FWAR’s requirements, TAFEP may clarify why this does not constitute a breach. While TAFEP will not perform additional checks on the employer, they may encourage employers to consider ways to improve their handling of FWAs and offer relevant resources.

In cases where employers persistently refuse to comply with the guidelines despite TAFEP’s educational efforts, the MOM may intervene with a warning and require them to attend corrective workshops.


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