All employers must have process for workers to request flexible work arrangements from December

All employers must have process for workers to request flexible work arrangements from December

All employers must have process for workers to request flexible work arrangements from December


Employers must give their decision on a flexible work arrangement request within two months, and provide the reason if it is rejected.


SINGAPORE: All employers must have a process in place for workers to make formal requests for flexible work arrangements from December, when new tripartite guidelines come into effect.


The guidelines state that employers should communicate their decision within two months of a request for flexible work arrangements. 


While employers have the right to reject such requests, the decision should be backed up by reasonable business grounds such as cost or productivity considerations. The guidelines also set out what are deemed unreasonable grounds for rejecting requests. 


The guidelines were launched on Monday (Apr 15) after the government accepted all the recommendations made by a tripartite workgroup, about eight months after it was convened to look into the issue of flexible work arrangements.


Explaining the need for the guidelines, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang pointed to Singapore's tight labour market and ageing workforce, with more people taking on caregiver roles.


Flexible work arrangements will allow more caregivers and seniors to continue to work if they wish to, she said at a launch event. 


“I personally feel that it’s not a choice that we can make. If we want to have a strong labour force in Singapore, we want to be able to empower adults in Singapore who want to work to be able to work, flexible work arrangements have to be the way to go,” she said.


By 2030, around one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above. Last year, the employment rate for seniors aged 65 and over was 30.6 per cent.


Women’s involvement in the workforce increased to 76.6 per cent last year. But about 260,000 women of economic age remain outside the workforce.


One of the main reasons for this is caregiving responsibilities, said Ms Yeo Wan Ling, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and director of U Women and Family and U SME.


The tripartite workgroup was co-chaired by Ms Gan, Ms Yeo and Mr Edwin Ng, honorary secretary of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).


The workgroup consulted a range of stakeholders including companies, trade associations and unions. Community organisations that look at issues affecting women, fathers and senior citizens were also consulted.


Asked why the workgroup decided to introduce mandatory guidelines instead of legislation, Ms Gan said it had to take a “progressive” approach to flexible work arrangements.


“We believe that in these next few years, it’s more important for us to focus on enabling and equipping workplaces and employers, as well the workers too, so that flexible work arrangements can be implemented in a sustainable way and in a win-win way,” she said.


She also said that the guidelines had to be “administratively light” and feasible for companies to adopt, in order for them to be made mandatory for all employers.


Asked what will happen if businesses do not comply with the guidelines, Ms Gan stressed that employers have to be “competitive” and “progressive” in order not to lose out on hiring talent.


“Secondly, for employers that perhaps don’t comply with the guidelines in terms of having a process to evaluate the flexible arrangement request from their employees, TAFEP will come in to advise them and also educate them on what it means for them to follow the guidelines,” she said, referring to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices.


“By and large, I believe, employers in Singapore will know what to do. They will want to be good employers ... for the interest of the business.”


In response to queries, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that in cases where employers are recalcitrant or wilfully refuse to comply with the guidelines, the ministry may issue a warning and require them to attend corrective workshops.




The guidelines take effect on Dec 1 and apply to all employers as well as all employees who have passed probation.


They are aimed at making it easier for employees to request flexible work arrangements, while “acknowledging that employers continue to have the prerogative to decide on work arrangements”, MOM said in a press release.


They hence govern the process for requesting flexible work arrangements, but not the outcome of the request. This is similar to other countries that legislate the right to request flexible work arrangements, the tripartite workgroup said.


The guidelines define three types of flexible work arrangements:


  • “Flexi-place” arrangements where employees can work from locations outside the office. This includes telecommuting and working from home.


  • “Flexi-time” arrangements where employees can work at different timings with no changes to total work hours and workload. This includes staggered hours, flexible shifts and a compressed work schedule.


  • “Flexi-load” arrangements where employees can take on different workloads with commensurate remuneration. This includes job sharing and part-time work.


The guidelines only cover formal requests for flexible work arrangements, which are long-term arrangements that require planning to ensure business continuity, the workgroup said.


Informal requests, such as an ad hoc arrangement to come into work later on one day, are not covered.


Existing formal and informal practices should continue if they work for employers and employees, the guidelines state.


The guidelines set out the basic requirements for formal flexible work arrangement requests to be made and considered.


Generally, there should be an understanding that employees make requests “responsibly”, considering the impact on their workload and performance as well as their team and clients.


Employers should explore ways to accommodate requests “as far as reasonably practical”, such as by reviewing work processes or reassigning work.


Each request should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and be viable from a business point of view. Where there are valid business grounds, employers are not expected to approve the same arrangements simultaneously for all employees.




Employers should have a process for employees to submit formal requests, such as through a work portal or email. Employees should follow any requirements that the employer has stipulated.


If there are no stipulations, the employee could make a formal request in writing that includes: The date of the request, the requested flexible work arrangement including its expected frequency and duration, the reason for the request and, if applicable, the start and end date of the arrangement.


A request that does not meet these requirements is not considered a formal request and not covered by the guidelines.


Employers can communicate information to help employees assess their suitability for flexible work arrangements. These can include employers’ expectations about work deliverables and remaining contactable during work hours.


Employers can also state their approach to flexible work arrangements in job advertisements and interviews, to better manage jobseekers’ expectations.




Employers are to focus on factors related to the employee’s job and any effect on the business or the employee’s performance when assessing a request.


They can reject a request, but this must be based on “reasonable business grounds and not personal bias against FWAs (flexible work arrangements)”. Examples of reasonable grounds are a significant increase in costs or a hit to productivity and output.


Employers can also reject a request if it is impractical due to the nature of the role, if there is no capacity to change other employees’ work arrangements, or it if would require hiring new employees.


Employers should not reject flexible work arrangement requests for reasons not directly linked to business outcomes.


For example, preferring to have sight of an employee in the office to see that they are working, even if the employee has had consistent satisfactory work performance, is not reasonable grounds for rejection.


Claims that “management does not believe in FWAs” or that it is “the organisation’s tradition or custom” not to have such arrangements are also not reasonable grounds.




Employers must give their written decision within two months of receiving a formal flexible work arrangement request.


This means that any clarification or discussion with the employee and communication of whether the request has been approved or rejected must take place within two months.


If the request is rejected, employers must provide the reason in writing. They are also encouraged to discuss alternatives with the employee.


The guidelines encourage employers and employees to discuss flexible work arrangements in an “open and constructive” manner.


“Should there be any disagreement, it is best for employers and employees to address them through the organisation’s internal grievance handling procedure as far as possible,” the guidelines state.


Unionised employees can seek advice and assistance from their unions. Employees can also approach TAFEP.




Flexible work arrangements can help companies to better attract and retain talent, and harness the potential of groups such as seniors, caregivers and people with special needs, said SNEF’s Mr Ng.


One example of a company that already has flexible work arrangements is Radha Exports. The wholesale distributor has about 250 employees, who can request arrangements like staggered working hours and flexible shifts, for instance.


CEO Deepak Partab Anandani told reporters that having flexible work arrangements has resulted in a “happier team” that returns to work with higher productivity.


But he also said that more education on the difficulties of managing flexible work arrangement requests would be important.


“As employers we will try to do as much as we can to accede to requests. However, the truth of the matter is, deadlines don’t change. Deliveries still have to be made.


“It doesn’t matter to your customer, or the person you need to deliver the project to, what requests come in on the employer’s part,” he said.


“So if there’s more education about what is the real principle behind this FWA procedure which we are formalising, it would be better.”


The workgroup said tripartite partners will work on building employers’ capabilities to comply with the guidelines, such as educating them on the varieties of flexible work arrangements that can be implemented.


Training on skills like job redesign, performance appraisal and change management, which are critical to implementing the arrangements, will be deepened.


Funding support will also be given through the Productivity Solutions Grant. The various resources will be progressively rolled out from May.


Tham, D. (2024, April 16). All employers must have process for workers to request flexible work arrangements from December. CNA.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.