Both sides have the same duty

Thavalingam: ‘With on-site work returning, all legal obligations will continue for both employees and employers.’

PETALING JAYA: As workplaces begin buzzing once again with staff making their “comeback”, employment experts say that companies must comply with requirements to keep the people safe on-site.

“With on-site work returning, all legal obligations will continue for both employees and employers,” said employment law and industrial relations expert, Datuk T. Thavalingam.

“Employees will have to keep up with their obligations such as coming to work on time and doing the work they are hired to do.

“If they fail to abide by a lawful direction, then it amounts to insubordination and the employer can take action,” he said.

As for the bosses, he said they were under legal obligation to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

Under Section 15 of the Occupational Safety and Hazard Act, it is the duty of every employer and every self-employed person to ensure, so far as is practicable, the safety, health and welfare at the workplace.

Thavalingam said employers were required to formulate and revise their safety and health policies.

“If there is a breach of the law in which the employer fails to provide and maintain a safe working environment, then there are legal ramifications.

“But it works both ways. Employees also have obligations and must comply in order to have a safe environment,” he added.

Section 24 of the same Act sets out the duties of employees while at work which are to take reasonable care for the safety and health of themselves and to comply with any instruction or measure on occupational safety and health instituted by his employer.

He suggests that companies update their handbook and manual with Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) and the new norms so that employees are aware of their obligations.

Thavalingam acknowledged that the process of coming back to work might not be easy in view of factors like office size and the SOP such as maintaining physical distancing.

In situations where it is not possible for all employees to be present for on-site work without breaking Covid-19 SOP, Thavalingam said employers could consider options such as allowing staff to work on a rotation system where possible and practical, as well as the work-from-home (WFH) arrangement.

Group human resources director Simon Sim said companies must have a sound Covid-19 policy.

“Measures must be taken to keep the workplace safe such as implementing mandatory vaccination and regular testing as well as having an SOP for those with symptoms. These protocols must be in place,” he said.

Each organisation should first assess its position before deciding whether to initiate a return to the office or to continue with the WFH arrangement,” said Sim.

“Small and medium enterprises may not have much funds to buy computers and invest in computer systems, thus making the remote work model a bit more difficult.

“Every organisation has to look at where it is currently, what business it is in, and how best it can serve customers.

“If they can ensure their productivity level is high and service level is equal or if not better by working remotely, then by all means, they should continue with the WFH arrangement,” he said.

He said that certain work, such as property or car sales, could not be done remotely.

“There are certain functions that can’t be avoided and therefore a return to work is a must,” he said.

Sim said with the vaccination rate in the country at over 97%, having employees at the workplace could bring many benefits, such as improving their mental health, which may be impacted by the weariness of remote work.

In a poll released last month by the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), about 70% of employers who responded to it indicated that they would operate in a hybrid fashion in the post-lockdown period.

The hybrid work model is a combination of the WFH and normal or fixed hour arrangements.

The MEF Quick Poll found that only 27.7% picked the normal and fixed-hours model, while flexible working hours received 20%, followed by shift work 19.9%, work from home only (15%) and staggered working hours/day (6.8%).

Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health president Dr Shawaludin Husin said employers must be mindful that the situation was still unstable.

“While we must learn to live with the virus and accept that transmission is now very much in the community, we shouldn’t throw caution to the wind.

“In this recovery period, I would say that whenever possible, a hybrid working arrangement is the most practical method.

“Allowing flexible working hours for employees would also create a win-win situation,” he said, adding that these two working models would not only help facilitate a safer work arrangement amid the Covid-19 crisis, but also help create a work-life balance for employees.

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