Starting Dec 2024, all employers in Singapore are mandated to enable employees to seek flexible work arrangements

Employers are obliged to address requests for flexible work arrangements within a two-month timeframe, providing explanations in case of denial. Commencing December, with the new tripartite guidelines, all employers must establish a formal procedure for employees to request flexible work arrangements.

These guidelines mandate that employers must render decisions on such requests within two months. While they reserve the right to refuse these requests, they must substantiate their decisions with valid business reasons related to cost or productivity. Moreover, the guidelines delineate what constitutes unreasonable grounds for refusal.

Launched on April 15 following government endorsement of recommendations from a tripartite workgroup convened eight months earlier to explore flexible work arrangements, these guidelines were deemed necessary due to Singapore’s tight labour market and ageing population, with a growing number of individuals undertaking caregiver responsibilities.

Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang underscored the importance of flexible work arrangements for sustaining a resilient workforce in Singapore, allowing caregivers and seniors to remain employed.

By 2030, approximately one in four Singaporeans will be over 65, with the current employment rate for seniors standing at 30.6%. Despite a rise in women’s workforce participation to 76.6% last year, around 260,000 economically active women remain outside the workforce, often due to caregiving obligations.

Led by Minister Gan, Ms Yeo Wan Ling of the National Trades Union Congress, and Mr Edwin Ng of the Singapore National Employers Federation, the tripartite workgroup consulted various stakeholders, including businesses, trade associations, unions, and community organizations focused on women, fathers, and seniors.

Minister Gan explained that the decision to introduce guidelines instead of legislation aimed to take a progressive approach to flexible work arrangements, concentrating on preparing and empowering workplaces for sustainable implementation.

She emphasised that the guidelines are designed to be minimally bureaucratic to facilitate mandatory adoption by all employers. Failure to comply could diminish businesses’ competitive edge and lead to guidance from the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

In cases of severe non-compliance, the Ministry of Manpower may issue warnings and mandate corrective workshops.

Effective December 1, the guidelines apply to all employers and employees who have completed probation. They cover three types of arrangements—flexi-place, flexi-time, and flexi-load—and regulate the process rather than the outcome of requests for long-term, formal flexible work arrangements.

Employers are urged to manage expectations through job advertisements and interviews and to evaluate each request based on job-related factors and business impact. Rejections should not be based on reasons unrelated to business outcomes, such as personal biases or organizational traditions against flexible work arrangements.

Employers must communicate their decisions in writing within two months and explore alternatives if a request is declined. Ideally, disagreements should be resolved internally or with union assistance.

Employers will receive support through initiatives such as the Productivity Solutions Grant and training in job redesign and performance appraisal to facilitate the effective implementation of flexible work arrangements.