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Country snapshot

Key considerations

Which issues would you most highlight to someone new to your country?

Although Singapore’s employment and labour landscape is not overly complex, it is quite dynamic at present. There is an increased focus on increasing the proportion of Singaporean employees in Singaporean companies, and guidelines and standards intended to encourage fair and progressive employment practices have been introduced. Businesses that aim to commence operations in Singapore should seek specialist advice to ensure that they understand the latest developments and are legally compliant in their dealings with employees. 

What do you consider unique to those doing business in your country?

Compared with other Southeast Asian countries, Singapore has a pro-employer labour and employment regime and there is greater flexibility for employers and employees to agree terms of employment. The law is strongly upheld in Singapore in the event of any breaches thereof by employers, but overall the labour compliance regime is simpler and Singapore adopts a light touch compared with other Southeast Asian jurisdictions.

Is there any general advice you would give in the employment area?

Given that the Singaporean courts uphold and give effect to the intention of parties, as evidenced in written contracts, properly drafted and regularly updated policies and contracts are essential.

Emerging issues/hot topics/proposals for reform

Are there any noteworthy proposals for reform in your jurisdiction?

The government is committed to providing a harmonious work environment for employees and has issued many guidelines and standards on various aspects of the employment relationship. Recently issued guidelines:

  • the Tripartite Standard on the Employment of Contract Employees for Better Work Conditions for Fixed-Term Workers;
  • the Tripartite Standards on Flexible Work Arrangements; and
  • the Tripartite Standards on Grievance Handling.

Although the above measures are guidelines, compliance is still strongly advised. More guidelines are expected to be issued in the near future.

What are the emerging trends in employment law in your jurisdiction?

Singapore has a large pool of foreign talent and many employers choose to employ foreign workers, as this can be cheaper than employing locals. As a result, the government has tightened the employment regime in order to encourage employers to consider Singaporean citizens first and permit the recruitment of foreign workers only if no locals with equivalent skills can be found. With this aim in mind, the government has issued numerous measures and the issue of work permits to foreign workers has generally become more difficult.

The employment relationship

Country specific laws

What laws and regulations govern the employment relationship?

Employment law in Singapore is predominantly governed by the Employment Act, which prescribes certain minimum employment conditions. Other legislation specific to particular aspects of employment in Singapore include:

  • the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act;
  • the Industrial Relations Act;
  • the Trade Unions Act;
  • the Retirement and Re-employment Act;
  • the Child Development Co-savings Act;
  • the Central Provident Fund Act; and
  • the Holidays Act. 

In addition, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices issues guidelines on best employment practices periodically.

Who do these cover, including categories of worker?

The Employment Act covers all employees, regardless of nationality, except:

  • seafarers;
  • domestic workers;
  • government employees; or
  • persons employed in a managerial or executive position who earn over S$4,500 a month.

Part IV of the act, which sets rest days, hours of work and other conditions of service, applies only to:

  • workers who are engaged in manual labour and earn a maximum basic salary of $4,500 a month; and
  • other employees who earn a maximum basic salary of S$2,500 a month.

The applicability of other legislation varies depending on factors such as age, gender, nationality and trade union membership.

Misclassification

Are there specific rules regarding employee/contractor classification?

An ‘employee’ is a person who has a contract of service under which work is carried out under the control of an employer.

A ‘contractor’ has been generally classified as a self-employed person with his or her own business who is in a position to achieve a profit or loss.

Contracts

Must an employment contract be in writing?

The provision of a written employment contract is not a legal requirement in Singapore, although it is strongly recommended.

However, an employer must provide details of key employment terms in writing to all employees covered by the Employment Act who are contracted to work for more than 14 days. Key employment terms include:

  • hours of work;
  • salary details;
  • overtime pay;
  • notice period; and
  • leave entitlement.

Are any terms implied into employment contracts?

Case law has established that an implied duty of mutual trust and confidence exists between an employer and an employee, defined as “a portmanteau, general obligation not to engage in conduct likely to undermine the trust and confidence required if the employment relationship is to continue”.

Employees also have a duty of good faith and fidelity towards their employers and to use reasonable care and skill in the performance of their duties.

The minimum terms and conditions prescribed under Singaporean labour law also apply to employees covered by that legislation.

Are mandatory arbitration/dispute resolution agreements enforceable?

Case law has established that arbitration and dispute resolution agreements are enforceable in Singapore. However, the use of such agreements is optional.

How can employers make changes to existing employment agreements?

Any change to the fundamental terms and conditions of an employment contract should be made with the mutual consent of the employer and employee and be documented in writing. Some employment contracts may allow the employer to change the terms of the agreement unilaterally, but this is generally limited to administrative (ie, non-fundamental) terms or internal policies and procedures. Where consent is required, the employer will be unable to proceed with the proposed changes without the employee’s consent.

Foreign workers

Is a distinction drawn between local and foreign workers?

The Employment Act makes no distinction between local and foreign workers and provides protection to all employees under its scope. However, certain benefits are available only to Singaporean citizens or permanent residents. For example, maternity, adoption, childcare and paternity leave benefits under the Child Development Co-Savings Act are granted only to employees whose children are Singaporean citizens, subject to other qualifying criteria. Further, only Singaporean citizens and permanent residents can participate in the Central Provident Fund (Singapore’s national pension scheme) and receive their employer’s co-contributions into their fund accounts.

Recruitment

Advertising

What are the requirements relating to advertising positions?

Vacancies must be advertised on the jobs bank, which is administered by Workforce Singapore, before an employer can submit an employment pass application (ie, a type of work pass for foreigners) to hire a non-Singaporean national. The listing must:

  • be open to Singaporean citizens;
  • comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (eg, it must not be discriminatory regarding job requirements); and
  • run for at least 14 calendar days before the employment pass application is made.

However, there are exemptions to the bank advertising requirement where:

  • the company has fewer than 25 employees;
  • the fixed-monthly salary for the vacant position is S$12,000 or above;
  • the job must be filled by an intra-corporate transferee; or
  • the job is for short-term contingency purposes (ie, less than one month in duration).

Background checks

What can employers do with regard to background checks and inquiries in relation to the following:

(a) Criminal records?

Employers cannot undertake a criminal record check on employees, but they can require employees to:

  • provide an up-to-date criminal record report from the Register of Criminal Records, which is operated by the Singapore Police Force; or
  • obtain a certificate of clearance from the police.

The latter can only be obtained by Singaporean citizens or overseas nationals who have legally resided in Singapore for at least six continuous months.

Alternatively, employers can ask their employees to sign a self-declaration that they have a clean criminal record. If an individual has no (or only a spent) conviction, he or she can declare that fact. However, if the question concerns whether the individual has ever been convicted of a criminal offence, he or she must answer in the affirmative even if the conviction is spent.

(b) Medical history?

Employers can make undergoing a medical examination to assess whether a prospective employee is fit for the job an employment condition. Foreign workers in specific industries must attend a medical examination within two weeks of their arrival in Singapore. Medical records constitute personal data and must be obtained and handled under the Personal Data Protection Act.

(c) Drug screening?

There is no legislation preventing alcohol and drug testing at work in Singapore. Best practice is for employers to include a requirement in employment contracts that employees be prepared to undergo alcohol and drugs testing if:

  • their jobs carry a health and safety risk to themselves or others; or
  • the employer has reasonable grounds to suspect that an employee is under the influence of alcohol or non-prescription drugs at work.

Most employers tend to use external testing agencies or have test samples sent to the Health Sciences Authority for analysis.

(d) Credit checks?

Employers can obtain credit reports on employees, although in practice this is done only for senior managers, executives or individuals employed in certain regulated roles where they have access to the employer’s assets or deal with financial matters, such as financial investment advisers or insurance agents. Only the Credit Bureau Singapore and the DP Credit Bureau are recognised by the Singapore Monetary Authority as competent to compile credit reports.

(e) Immigration status?

Work permits for foreign employees are generally sponsored by their employers. Therefore, in practice, employers are aware of the immigration status of their employees and their eligibility to work in Singapore. However, it is common for employers to request proof from employees confirming their eligibility to work legally in Singapore and that they inform their employer of any change in their eligibility status. 

(f) Social media?

Employers are free to screen their employees’ internet profiles and social media activity, provided that such material is publicly available. Although material from social media and the Internet constitutes personal data, it is exempt under the Personal Data Protection Act if it is already publicly available.

(g) Other?

Employers are free to conduct additional background checks, including:

  • identity verification;
  • curriculum vitae checks; and
  • reference checks.

However, such checks must be done within the limitations imposed by the Personal Data Protection Act.

Wages and working time

Pay

Is there a national minimum wage and, if so, what is it?

There is no minimum wage in Singapore apart from in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors, in which a progressive wage model sets a minimum wage for workers, subject to progression in their level of training and skills.

Are there restrictions on working hours?

In general, the maximum basic working hours are eight hours a day or 44 hours a week (including meal breaks). The upper limit for overtime is 72 hours a week. Employees covered under Part IV of the Employment Act should not be contractually required to work more than eight hours a day or 44 hours a week.  If they work overtime, employees are entitled to claim overtime pay.

The working hours of employees not covered under Part IV are based on the terms and conditions of his or her individual employment contract.

Hours and overtime

What are the requirements for meal and rest breaks?

Under Part IV of the Employment Act, employees cannot work for more than six consecutive hours without a break. If the nature of the work requires continuous work for up to eight hours, breaks must be provided for meals. Breaks should last at least 45 minutes.

How should overtime be calculated?

For employees covered under Part IV of the act, overtime pay is calculated at one-and-a-half times the hourly basic rate of pay. The overtime rate payable to non-workers is calculated based on a monthly salary capped at S$2,250 or S$11.80 an hour.

For employees not covered by Part IV of the act, overtime pay will be calculated in accordance with the terms and conditions of their employment contract.

What exemptions are there from overtime?

Employees covered under Part IV of the act have a statutory entitlement to receive overtime pay. The working hours and overtime pay of employees not covered by Part IV are governed only by their individual employment contracts.

Is there a minimum paid holiday entitlement?

Employees who are covered under Part IV of act and have carried out at least three months’ continuous service are entitled to seven days’ annual leave for the first year of service. Thereafter, the minimum annual leave entitlement increases by one day for every year of service (eg, eight days of annual leave for two years’ service, capped at a maximum of 14 days’ annual leave, irrespective of length of service).

For all other employees, leave is governed by the terms and conditions of their employment contracts. It is usual to provide at least 14 days’ paid leave entitlement in addition to statutory and public holidays.

What are the rules applicable to final pay and deductions from wages?

An employee’s final pay must include:

  • a salary payment covering up until the last day of employment;
  • a salary payment in lieu of notice, if applicable;
  • compensation for accrued but unused annual leave; and
  • any other contractual benefits to which the employee may be entitled.

Record keeping

What payroll and payment records must be maintained?

Employers must keep records of each employee’s:

  • name;
  • address;
  • earnings; and
  • any deductions from earnings.

Employers must issue itemised payslips which contain the following information:

  • the employer’s full name;
  • the employee’s full name;
  • the date of payment (or dates, if the pay slips consolidate multiple payments);
  • details of the employee’s basic salary;
  • the start and end date of the salary period;
  • details of allowances paid for the salary period;
  • additional payments for each salary period (eg, bonuses, rest day pay and public holiday pay);
  • deductions made for each salary period;
  • overtime hours worked;
  • overtime pay;
  • the start and end date of the overtime payment period; and
  • the total net salary paid.

These records must be kept for two years for existing employees and one year following an employee’s departure.

Discrimination, harassment & family leave

What is the position in relation to:

Protected categories

(a) Age?

It is an offence under the Retirement and Re-employment Act for an employer to dismiss an employee who is younger than 62 (or the then prescribed minimum retirement age) on the grounds of his or her age. However, a salary adjustment is allowed once an employee turns 60.

(b) Race

Race is not a statutorily protected characteristic in Singapore, although it is indirectly protected under the implied terms of trust and confidence. The Constitution prohibits discrimination against Singapore citizens on the grounds of race. Further, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) provides guidelines on fair employment practices which encourage employers to treat employees based on merit, regardless of race.

(c) Disability?

Disability is not a statutorily protected characteristic in Singapore, although it is indirectly protected under the implied terms of trust and confidence. TAFEP guidelines on fair employment practices encourage employers to treat employees on the basis of merit, regardless of disability.

(d) Gender?

Gender is not a statutorily protected characteristic in Singapore, although it is indirectly protected under the implied terms of trust and confidence. TAFEP guidelines on fair employment practices also encourage employers to treat employees on the basis of merit, regardless of gender.

Female employees have certain protections against dismissal during maternity leave under the Employment Act and the Child Development Co-savings Act.

(e) Sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is not a statutorily protected characteristic in Singapore.

(f) Religion?

Religion is not a statutorily protected characteristic in Singapore, although it is indirectly protected under the implied terms of trust and confidence. The Constitution prohibits discrimination against Singaporean citizens on the grounds of religion. TAFEP guidelines on fair employment practices encourage employers to treat employees based on merit, regardless of religion.

(g) Medical?

No special protection is provided to employees based on medical conditions, except disabled or pregnant employees or employees on maternity leave. 

(h) Other?

Singaporean citizens and male permanent residents undertaking national service are protected under the Enlistment Act. No employer may dismiss an employee solely or primarily due to a duty or liability which that person may become liable to perform through national service.

Family and medical leave

What is the position in relation to family and medical leave?

Sick Leave

Employees covered under the Employment Act who have carried out at least three months’ service are entitled to paid sick leave. The sick leave entitlement per calendar year is 14 days’ non-hospitalisation leave and 60 days’ hospitalisation leave (inclusive of the 14 days). Employees with six months’ service are entitled to the full sick leave entitlement, while sick leave entitlement is prorated for employees with three to six months’ service.

Maternity Leave

Under the Child Development Co-savings Act, mothers whose children are Singaporean citizens at the time of birth are entitled to 16 weeks’ paid maternity leave. In order to be eligible, mothers must have been employed for at least three months before the child’s birth. This benefit is known as government-funded maternity leave. There is no requirement for female employees to be married in order to be eligible for the benefit. Under the act, employers are entitled to a reimbursement from the government for the last eight weeks of maternity pay for a female employee’s first two children and the full 16 weeks for any subsequent children.

For women who do not qualify under the act, but who are covered by the Employment Act, maternity leave is 12 weeks. The first eight weeks are paid by the employer and the last four weeks are unpaid. 

For female employees not covered under the Employment Act or the Child Development Co-savings Act, any entitlement to maternity leave is governed by their employment contracts.

Adoption Leave

Under the Child Development Co-savings Act, adoptive mothers of Singaporean children are entitled to 12 weeks’ adoption leave. This is paid by the employer, which can then claim reimbursement from the government of up to S$10,000. Employees must take their adoption leave before the child turns one. Certain eligibility criteria must be met in order to take adoption leave.

Paternity Leave

Male employees are entitled to up to two weeks’ paid paternity leave. In order to be eligible, the father should be:

  • lawfully married to the child’s mother;
  • the child must be a Singaporean citizen; and
  • the father must have carried out at least three months’ service with the same employer.

Paternity leave is funded by the government, with a cap of S$2,500 a week.

Parental Leave

Employees who are eligible under the Child Development Co-savings Act and have worked for an employer for at least three months are entitled to the following benefits each year:

  • six days’ unpaid infant leave if they have a child aged under two;
  • six days’ paid childcare leave if they have a child aged under seven; and
  • two days’ paid extended childcare leave if they have a child aged between seven and 12.

For employees who satisfy the Child Development Co-savings Act’s requirements, the first three days of childcare a year are paid for by the employer and the remaining three days are paid for by the government, subject to a daily cap of S$500.

Employees who are not eligible under the Child Development Co-savings Act, but who are eligible under the Employment Act, are entitled to two days’ paid childcare leave a year.

Shared Parental Leave

Working fathers can take up to four weeks of their wife’s 16-week government funded maternity leave, subject to their wife’s consent. The leave is paid, subject to a cap of S$2,500. In order to be eligible, the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • the child must be a Singaporean citizen;
  • the father must be lawfully married to the mother; and
  • the mother must qualify for the 16-week government funded maternity leave.

 

Harassment

What is the position in relation to harassment?

The Protection from Harassment Act criminalises harassment. Anyone found guilty of harassment can face a fine or imprisonment (or both) and be subject to injunctive orders to cease the harassment. The act places no specific obligations on employers to prevent harassment in the workplace, as it is not employment-specific legislation. However, as it allows a victim of harassment to seek damages against the harasser in the civil courts, it may be possible for the employer to be sued and made vicariously liable for the actions of its employees who are found guilty of harassment.

Whistleblowing

What is the position in relation to whistleblowing?

Singapore has no specific legislation on whistleblowing protection for employees or other workers. Although the Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act have introduced substantive criminal offences for corruption, no specific protection is available to employees or other workers who report their employer or one of its business partners to the appropriate authorities. 

Privacy in the workplace

Privacy and monitoring

What are employees’ rights with regard to privacy and monitoring?

Singapore has no constitutional right of privacy, but the Personal Data Protection Act provides a measure of data privacy for employee communications. The act normally requires that employee consent be obtained before an employer collects, uses, processes or discloses his or her personal data, although there are some exemptions (eg, when the data is used for evaluative purposes or to manage or terminate an employment relationship).

There is no legislation or case law in Singapore that specifically addresses the monitoring of emails. However, the Personal Data Protection Act nonetheless applies to the monitoring of emails, text messages and phone calls. This is because the content of emails, text messages or phone calls is likely to constitute personal data if an individual can be reasonably identified by the information contained therein. As such, employee consent must be obtained unless the purpose of the collection, monitoring or disclosure of information falls within one of the exemptions set out in the act.

To what extent can employers regulate off-duty conduct?

As a general rule, employers cannot intrude into their employees’ private lives unless such activities have a material adverse impact on the employer’s reputation or business. 

Are there rules protecting social media passwords in the employment context and/or on employer monitoring of employee social media accounts?

There are no specific rules on protecting social media passwords or employer monitoring of employee social media accounts.

Trade secrets and restrictive covenants

Intellectual Property

Who owns IP rights created by employees during the course of their employment?

If an employee creates IP rights during the course of his or her employment, those rights will generally belong to the employer. However, it is advisable to include express provisions to this effect in an employment contract.

Restrictive covenants

What types of restrictive covenants are recognised and enforceable?

Post-employment restrictive covenants are prima facie a restraint of trade and are therefore unenforceable in Singapore, unless the employer seeks to protect a legitimate business interest and the scope of the restraint (eg, the duration, geographical area and scope of restricted activity) is no wider than is reasonable and necessary to protect those interests. In general, non-solicitation of customers is easier to enforce than a restraint against joining a competitor. For this reason, restrictive covenants must be drafted carefully.

Non-compete

Are there any special rules on non-competes for particular classes of employee?

No. However, non-competition restrictions are appropriate only for senior management or employees who have access to highly confidential information or can exert significant influence over customers and employees, such that their departure and the abuse of such information could adversely affect the employer’s business interests.

Discipline and grievance procedures

Procedures

Are there specific laws on the procedures employers must follow with regard to discipline and grievance procedures?

There is no statute governing the procedures that employers must follow with regard to discipline and grievance procedures. However, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices has provided guidance in its Tripartite Standards on Grievance Handling. Under these standards, employers are encouraged to set up mechanisms to deal with discrimination complaints and communicate these procedures to employees clearly. This includes specifying who will hear complaints and setting a timeframe for actions to be taken. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices has prepared a Grievance Handling Handbook, which offers practical tips on managing grievances within the workplace and helps employers through the entire grievance handling process.  These standards are non-binding in nature.

Industrial relations

Unions and layoffs

Is your country (or a particular area) known to be heavily unionised?

There are more than 50 trade unions in Singapore. However, trade unions’ activities are regulated under legislation and they have only limited legal rights to organise industrial action.

What are the rules on trade union recognition?

All trade unions in Singapore must register with the Registry of Trade Unions in order to have legal status and enjoy the rights, privileges and immunities given to trade unions. Any registered trade union can apply to an employer to recognise it for all or a specific class (or classes) of employees. There is a statutory process to facilitate this under the Industrial Relations (Recognition of a Trade Union of Employees) Regulations. 

What are the rules on collective bargaining?

Recognised trade unions and employers can serve notice on each other, inviting the other party to engage in collective bargaining. This invitation must be in writing and set out the proposals in relation to industrial matters (ie, pertaining to employer or employee relations, the terms of employment, the transfer of employment or the working conditions of any person). However, trade unions cannot demand collective bargaining in the following areas:

  • the promotion of an employee;
  • the transfer of an employee within the employer’s trade, business or work, provided that this does not entail a change to the employee’s detriment;
  • the appointment of any person to a vacancy within the employer’s establishment;
  • the termination of an employee’s contract due to redundancy, reorganisation or the criteria for such termination;
  • the dismissal and reinstatement of an employee (in certain circumstances); or
  • the assignment or allocation of duties or specific tasks to an employee in line with his or her terms of employment.

 

A collective agreement is valid for a minimum of two and a maximum of three years. Once the agreement has been signed, it must be filed with the Industrial Arbitration Court for certification within one week. If a collective agreement cannot be concluded, the employer or trade union may seek conciliation assistance from the Ministry of Manpower to help both parties resolve the collective agreement dispute amicably.

Termination

Notice

Are employers required to give notice of termination?

The Employment Act requires that a minimum notice period be given by employers and employees depending on the length of service. The minimum notice period requirements under the Employment Act are as follows:

Length of service

Minimum notice period

Less than 26 weeks

One day

Between 26 weeks and two years

One week

Between two and five years

Two weeks

Five or more years

Four weeks

 

It is common for an employment contract to provide for longer notice periods. An employment contract cannot provide for a notice period, which is shorter than the statutory minimum period and notice periods for employers and employees must be the same.

There are no statutory minimum notice periods for employees not covered under the Employment Act. This is determined by the individual employment contract. In the absence of notice periods being specified in an employment contract, the court will imply a notice period of reasonable duration.

Redundancies

What are the rules that govern redundancy procedures?

Employees covered under the Employment Act with two years or more of service are entitled to claim retrenchment benefits under the Employment Act. However, as the act does not specify what these benefits must be, it is a matter of negotiation between employers and employees. 

Employees not covered under the Employment Act are unentitled to redundancy protection, except as provided by their individual employment contract.

There is no statutory process for implementing individual redundancies or retrenchment. However, the Tripartite Guidelines on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment state that the process should be fair and treat affected employees with respect and dignity.

The Ministry of Manpower recommends that employers should give a longer period of notice than their contractual obligations to enable employees to adjust to their redundancy and look for other work. No specific timescale is recommended, as each redundancy is likely to be different. 

The Tripartite Guidelines on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment and the Ministry of Manpower recommend that employers should examine alternatives to retrenchment, including:

  • shorter working weeks;
  • temporary layoffs;
  • flexible working arrangements; and
  • redeployment.

There is no statutory requirement for employers to consult or negotiate with trade unions (whether or not they are recognised) in respect of retrenchment proposals. Although recognised trade unions have the right to serve notice on an employer to engage in collective bargaining under Section 17 of the Industrial Relations Act, terminations on the grounds of redundancy are expressly excluded. 

Are there particular rules for collective redundancies/mass layoffs?

Employers with at least 10 employees must notify the Ministry of Manpower if five or more employees are to be retrenched within a six-month period. The notification must be submitted within five working days after an employee is notified of his or her retrenchment. For the first four employees to be made redundant, notification must be submitted within five working days from when the fifth employee has been notified. Thereafter, notification must be submitted within five working days after each employee has been notified.

There are no additional statutory requirements on employers to consult or negotiate with trade unions (whether recognised or not) in respect of retrenchment proposals. Although recognised trade unions have the right to serve notice on an employer to engage in collective bargaining under Section 17 of the Industrial Relations Act, terminations on the grounds of redundancy are expressly excluded. However, the Tripartite Guidelines on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment recommend consultation with recognised trade unions over proposed redundancies, which is also commonly provided for in collective bargaining agreements.

Protections

What protections do employees have on dismissal?

An employer may dismiss an employee without assigning a reason if it is done in accordance with the employment contract. Employees covered under the Employment Act may appeal the dismissal with the Ministry of Manpower if they consider that it was without “just cause or excuse”. The act provides no definition in that regard. However, misconduct and poor performance clearly fall within its remit, depending on the particular circumstances of the case. Such an appeal must be lodged by the employee within one month from the date of dismissal.

If the Ministry of Manpower decides that the dismissal was without just cause or excuse, it can order the employer to:

  • reinstate the employee and pay a sum equivalent to the employee’s lost wages from the date of dismissal until reinstatement; or
  • pay compensation as determined by the Ministry of Manpower. There is no cap on the amount of compensation awardable. 

If the Ministry of Manpower makes such an order, the employee cannot bring claims in the ordinary courts. 

Employees who are not covered under the Employment Act will have to bring civil claims for unjust dismissal, but their damages are limited to contractual entitlements, which would usually be only their notice entitlement and any other rights that they may have in their individual employment contracts (if any).

Courts/tribunals

Jurisdiction and procedure

Which tribunals or courts have jurisdiction to hear complaints?

The State Courts and Supreme Court of Singapore have jurisdiction to hear all employment-related complaints. Further, employees covered under the Employment Act are entitled to appeal against dismissal to the Ministry of Manpower.

Recently, the Employment Claims Tribunal has been set up under the Employment Claims Act 2016. All employees, including employees not covered under the Employment Act, may approach the tribunal for salary-related disputes. The tribunal’s jurisdiction is for claims of up to S$20,000 or S$30,000 where a union is involved.

What is the procedure and typical timescale?

The Employment Claims Act makes it mandatory to resort to mediation before a complaint can be heard by the Employment Claims Tribunal. The mediation is facilitated by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management. The government, unions and employers are in talks to expand the scope of the Employment Claims Act to provide for mandatory mediation in non-salary-related disputes by 2018. Parties must act in person and cannot be represented by an advocate or solicitor before the tribunal.

An employee has one year from the date of a dispute to file a mediation request with the  Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management. A former employee must do so within six months of his or her last day of employment. If the claim cannot be settled through mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, the mediator will issue the employee a claim referral certificate and he or she must then file a claim with the tribunal within four weeks of the certificate date.

Thereafter, the claim will be managed by the tribunal with specific timelines given.

Appeals

What is the route for appeals?

After hearing the dispute, the Employment Claims Tribunal may make an order:

  • requiring one party to pay money or costs (or both) to the other; or
  • dismissing the whole or any part of the claim.

At any stage of proceedings, the tribunal may order parties to go for mediation. Any party who fails to do so may be guilty of contempt of court and is liable to a fine of up to S$20,000, or a prison term not exceeding 12 months or both. The tribunal may also refer the party to the public prosecutor to consider whether criminal charges should be brought.