Tuberculosis management at the workplace
What should you do if your employee is diagnosed with TB?
Based on a recent case handled by TAFEP, this case study is intended to guide you on how to implement HR practices to ensure that employees with TB are treated fairly and with empathy, and keep the workplace safe for all employees.
Q: My employee has been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB). He is currently seeking medical treatment and has been deemed non-infectious by the doctors. However, his colleagues have expressed concerns over his return to the workplace as they are worried that they might also get infected.
As a safety precaution to ensure the well-being of my employees, can I place the infected employee on unpaid leave until he has completed the medical treatment before allowing him to return to work?
TAFEP: Employers do not need to place the infected employee on unpaid leave for the entire duration of his medical treatment to ensure the safety and well-being at the workplace.
Typically, employees diagnosed with TB will be issued with medical leave for at least two weeks to self-isolate and undergo treatment. Based on local and international standards, employees with TB are generally deemed to be non-infectious after completing the first two weeks of treatment and are able to return to work. They are also required to adhere with the treatment regime* (i.e., directly observed therapy, or DOT) so that they do not suffer a relapse and risk spreading the infection.
*Cases of non-compliance will be referred to the TB Control Unit (TBCU).
As the employees continue to undergo treatment, employers too have a responsibility to:
- Continue to ensure the overall health and safety of the workplace and employees.
- Put in place measures to support employees with TB to continue remaining healthy and non-infectious, and
- Treat them fairly and with empathy as they carry out their work responsibilities at the workplace.
Here are some ways that employers can support their employees with TB at the workplace:
- Conduct health talks and workshops on TB management at the workplace as part of the workplace health initiatives aimed at educating, generating awareness and addressing the concerns of the employees.
- Make reasonable accommodations in their work schedule, where necessary, to enable employees with TB to go for their daily treatment, such as providing time off or changing their start/end time.
- Maintain confidentiality of the affected employee and limit the information to health authorities and relevant parties (e.g., his immediate supervisor for the purpose of work scheduling).
When managed responsibly, potential disruption to the workplace can be minimised and affected employees can continue to carry out their work as they recuperate from TB. Additionally, care and support provided by employers is essential, and TAFEP encourages employers to explore more ways to support their employees as they recover from the disease.
Disclaimer – The recommendations above does not apply to employees in occupations with exposure to free silica. Please approach the Designated Workplace Doctors (DWDs) for medical advice on the management of employees with TB in these occupations.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
- MOH’s FAQs on Tuberculosis
- SNEF’s Health Talk and Workshop on Infectious Diseases
- WSH Guidelines on statutory medical examinations
- Types of Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs)