Matthew Teo Kenneth Lim September 27 2022 Key takeaways for employers from recent SBS Transit case Helmsman LLC | Litigation - Singapore Matthew Teo, Kenneth Lim Litigation FactsDecisionCommentFactsThe defendant, SBS Transit Ltd (SBS), is a public transport operator in Singapore that provides bus services, among other things. The plaintiff, Chua, was employed by SBS as a bus captain from 3 April 2017 until 6 February 2020.Chua alleged that over the course of his employment, SBS breached various provisions of Singapore's Employment Act (Cap 91, 2009 Rev Ed) (EA), the collective agreement between SBS and the National Transport Workers' Union (the collective agreement), and the terms of Chua's employment contract (the contract).Chua alleged (among other things) that:SBS had required him to work for seven consecutive days before granting him a rest day. This contravened the provisions of the EA, which stipulated that employees be granted one rest day per week;SBS had underpaid him for overtime work, which was in breach of Chua's contract and the EA. SBS had also failed to adequately compensate Chua at the rate of pay stipulated in the EA for work Chua performed on a public holiday;he had not been compensated for his idle time – that is, the time he had spent waiting to commence his morning or afternoon shift (on the days Chua performed split shifts); andhe had not been provided with a break time of at least 45 minutes (as stipulated in the EA) when he had worked for more than eight hours, and had not been provided with an opportunity to have a meal either.DecisionThe court dismissed all of Chua's complaints. Most of them were dismissed based on the findings of fact by the court (eg, either Chua was unable to substantiate his assertions, or his complaints had not been adequately pleaded).That said, the court made a few findings which are pertinent to employers, especially for employers with shift workers. Three of them are highlighted below.Employers can schedule one rest day per calendar weekOne of Chua's arguments was that SBS had breached section 36(1) of the EA by failing to roster a regular rest day for Chua each week. This could lead to a situation where the period between each rest day extends beyond seven days.The court rejected this argument and confirmed that a rest day under section 36(1) of the EA can be scheduled any day in a week and can be a different day every week. In particular, section 41 of the EA defines a week (for the purpose of section 36) as a continuous period of seven days commencing at midnight on Sunday (ie, a calendar week).This means that employers can roster a rest day for an employee on Monday of the first calendar week, and another rest day on Sunday of the second calendar week, requiring the employee to work for 12 consecutive days.The case is thus timely guidance for employers, which may need to schedule irregular rest days for shift workers due to manpower requirements.Overtime pay on rest days for employeesThe EA distinguishes wages payable to employees for working on rest days, depending on whether the employee requested to work on that rest day or whether the employer requested that the employee work.Under section 37(2) of the EA, an employee who, at their own request, works on a rest day is entitled to compensation at the basic rate of pay for one day's work (assuming that the employee works normal hours).Conversely, if the employee works on a rest day, pursuant to the employer's request, then the employee is entitled to pay for two days' work instead (section 37(3)(b) of the EA).The court found that SBS had, as a matter of policy, paid their employee's two days' salary regardless of whether the employee had worked at their own request or at SBS's request.For employers with shift workers, this case is a good reminder that a proper system should be implemented to track whether an employee either works on a scheduled rest day and, if so, whether the employee worked at their own request or at the employer's request. Otherwise, there may be difficulties proving either scenario.Alternatively, if it is too costly or time-consuming for an employer to maintain such a system, they may wish to simply adopt the simpler approach of compensating an employee for working on their rest day at the higher rate of pay (ie, two days' salary), regardless of whether the employee worked at their own request or the employer's request.Rest period of 45 minutesFinally, on the issue of break times, section 38(1)(c) of the EA provides that employees must have at least 45 minutes of break time during which that employee must have an opportunity to have a meal (if said employee works for eight consecutive hours).The court found that the 45 minutes of break need not be a continuous period, but there must be a sufficient period for employees to have a meal. In other words, so long as the combined periods of rest add up to 45 minutes, that will suffice.Additionally, the court did not provide a bright-line test as to how much time would be considered sufficient to have a meal. That said, in Chua's case, the court seemed to consider a short period of 10 to 15 minutes sufficient to have a meal. This will, of course, be fact dependent and vary from case to case.CommentThe points highlighted are not intended to be an exhaustive summary of all the points canvased in the judgment. Instead, they are intended to be useful points for employers that have shift workers to whom the EA will apply to consider so that they can adjust their practices if necessary.For further information on this topic please contact Matthew Teo or Kenneth Lim at Helmsman LLC by telephone (+65 6816 6660) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Helmsman LLC website can be accessed at www.helmsmanlaw.com.