Singapore Employment Law

This article is a guide to the regulations that govern employment relations in Singapore. It specifies the current laws in this field, describes the groups of persons who are protected by Singapore’s employment laws, and outlines the key labour rights employers must respect in all their dealings with employees. After reading this article, you will have a good understanding of how you can comply fully with labour laws when running a company in Singapore.

Introduction

E

mployment laws (also called “labor laws”) are designed to provide a formal structure for the relationship framework between employers and employees in workplaces. In most countries, including Singapore, these laws assume that the employer-employee relationship inherently has an unsymmetric power distribution, with the employers wielding more power. Therefore, these laws are also designed to protect the rights of employees. Without such statutes, workers would be vulnerable to a number of threats and the laws mitigate those threats — key employment law provisions include those related to minimum working age, minimum wage, working hours, paid sick leave, paid holidays, overtime compensation, etc. Conversely, some laws are designed to protect the employers from unfair collective bargaining negotiation tactics such as strikes.

The importance of a country’s labor laws cannot be overstated — these laws undergird a country’s economic system and ensure its smooth functioning. Countries with poorly defined labor relations frameworks end up with steep income inequality or a moribund economy paralyzed by strikes.

Violating these laws can result in serious consequences for businesses in the form of government fines, license revocation, and other punitary action, so it is crucial to follow best practices to ensure the wellbeing of the company and its employees.

Singapore has one of the best developed, yet business-friendly regulatory regimes in this field. The country was recognized as the best performer in protection of labour-employer relations by The Global Competitiveness Report 2019. Below, we’ll describe the basic legal requirements Singapore companies must follow when hiring, managing, and terminating employees.

This article includes the following topics:

Singapore’s Employment Regulations

Employment regulations in Singapore are derived from laws passed by Parliament, such as the Employment Act, and common law, which consists of precedents set in previous court cases.

The Employment Act

The major legislation governing employer-employee relations in Singapore is the Employment Act  (the EA, or the Act). It sets out a minimum standard of terms and conditions that employers must abide by when hiring workers covered by this law. Part-time employees who fall under the EA also enjoy the protection of the EA through the Employment (Part-Time Employees) Regulations. If this legislation applies to the employment of an employee then the company must comply with the applicable obligations imposed on employers and provide terms to the employee that are no less favourable than those in the EA.

Other Laws

Additional laws also affect workplace relations. The Child Development Co-Savings Act stipulates obligations employers have regarding maternity leave and maternity pay. The Central Provident Fund Act mandates that companies must contribute to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts of their employees. The employer cannot contract out of these obligations.

Common Law

An employer has additional duties under common law; for example, a basic duty of trust, confidence, and fair-dealing to the worker. This means that an employer should not behave in a manner that may destroy the relationship of confidence and trust between the company and the employee.

Who is Covered by the Employment Act?

The Singapore Employment Act protects all employees working in Singapore under a contract of service with an employer — both local and foreign workers.

An employee is protected by the EA if employed under any of the following terms:

  • Full-time;
  • Part-time;
  • Temporary;
  • Under contract.

Note that an employee working less than 35 hours a week is considered a part-time worker and is covered by the Employment (Part-Time Employees) Regulations.

An employee is also covered by the Act irrespective of whether he or she receives payments:

  • Hourly;
  • Daily;
  • Monthly; or
  • Piece-rated.

However, the following categories of employees are not covered by the Act:

  • Seafarers;
  • Domestic workers;
  • Statutory board employees or civil servants (statutory boards are certain autonomous Government agencies, such as Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), etc.).

If an employee is not covered by the Employment Act, the terms and conditions of employment will be governed by the specific employment contract between the employee and the employer.

Core Employment Law Provisions

Traditionally, regulations contained in the Act have been divided into two categories: the Core Provisions, applied to all categories of employees, and Part IV Provisions, which apply to only a specific set of employees. The Core Provisions include basic regulations on:

  • Salary payment;
  • Paid annual leave;
  • Paid sick leave;
  • Paid public holidays;
  • Maintenance of Employment records;
  • Dismissal from employment.

Part IV Provisions

Part IV of the Employment Act provides for rights concerning:

  • Normal hours of work;
  • Payment for overtime work;
  • Rest days.

These regulations apply only to employees who are considered to have lower level of protections in their employment. It includes the following categories of workers:

  • Workmen (doing manual labour) earning a basic monthly salary of not more than S$4,500, and
  • All employees who are not workmen, but earning a monthly basic salary of not more than S$2,600.

Managers and Executives

Managers and executives are treated a bit differently by Singapore law. This category refers to employees who carry out executive and supervisory functions; their duties and authority may include one or all of the following:

  • Making decisions on issues such as recruitment, discipline, termination of employment, performance assessment, and reward for other employees; or
  • Formulating strategies and policies of the enterprise; or
  • Managing and running a business.

This category also includes professionals with tertiary education and specialised knowledge or skills; or those who have employment terms similar to managers and executives (e.g. chartered accountants, practising doctors, and dentists, etc.).

From April 1, 2019, managers and executives are protected under the Core Provisions but excluded from additional protection under Part IV, which covers hours of work, rest days, and overtime payments. The law assumes that their work is outcome-based rather than time-based; in other words, their work is self-directed and they are measured on their deliverables and not simply by the time they spend working.

2019 Amendments to the Employment Act

In 2019, Singapore passed labor law reforms that resulted in amendments to the EA.  Among other changes, these reforms extended the groups of employees protected. The key changes were as follows:

  • Core provisions were extended to cover all managers and executives;
  • The salary threshold for non-workmen to qualify as Part IV employees was raised from $2,500 to $2,600;
  • Wrongful dismissal claims are now heard by the Employment Claims Tribunals instead of the Minister for Manpower;
  • Medical certificates from all registered doctors and dentists are now recognised for paid sick leave.

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Key Regulations Under the Employment Act

As a reference point, we have highlighted the key provisions of the Act below.

Employment Contract

An employment contract is an agreement that defines the relationship between the company and the employee. Such contracts are not required to be in writing in Singapore. However, the Ministry of Manpower recommends written contracts to minimise disputes.

Employers are recommended to include the following key employment terms in the agreements, as applicable:

  1. Full name of employer and employee;
  2. Job title, main duties and responsibilities;
  3. Start date of employment;
  4. Duration of employment;
  5. Working arrangements (i.e., working hours and rest days);
  6. Salary period;
  7. Basic salary, fixed allowances, and fixed deductions;
  8. Overtime payment period (if applicable) and overtime rate of pay (if applicable);
  9. Other salary-related components, such as bonuses and incentives;
  10. Types of leave (annual, outpatient, hospitalisation, maternity, childcare, etc.);
  11. Other medical benefits, such as insurance, medical, and dental;
  12. Probation period;
  13. Place of work (optional).

The law says that if a clause in the employment contract is less favourable than that in the EA, then that clause will be null and void and the relevant provision of the EA will be applied instead. For example, salary must be paid at least once a month, and all salary components must be paid within 7 days after the end of the salary period. To not do so would be a breach of the employer’s obligation, regardless of what the employment contract states, if the employee is protected under the EA.

A professional corporate services firm can assist you with drafting a model employment contract that is designed to be in compliance with the Employment Act terms.

Working Age

The legal age to work in Singapore is 17 years and above. You are permitted to employ children and young persons aged 13 years to 16 years, but take note of restrictions on the type of work that children and young persons may perform. For example, a company cannot employ workers below the age of 16 in any workplace with harmful or dangerous working conditions. The retirement age in Singapore is 62. Employees who reach retirement age can be re-employed up to the age of 65. However, only Singapore citizens and permanent residents are eligible for re-employment after the age of 62.

Salary Payment

Singapore law does not prescribe a minimum salary that every employee must be paid; this is subject to negotiation between the company and the employee. However, the salary must be paid at least once a month, within 7 days after the end of the salary period. Overtime pay, if applicable, must be paid within 14 days of the stipulated salary period.

Paid Annual Leave

In accordance with the Employment Act, a worker is entitled to paid annual leave if he or she has worked for the employer for at least 3 months. The paid annual leave length depends on how many years of service the employee has performed with the company.

Year of service

Days of leave

1st

7

2nd

8

3rd

9

4th

10

5th

11

6th

12

7th

13

8th and thereafter

14

Paid Sick Leave

The number of days of paid sick leave employees are entitled to depends on their period of service. As a rule, employees must have worked at least three months to be entitled to paid outpatient sick leave, and at least six months to get the full entitlement. Between three and six months, entitlements can be prorated as follows:

Number of months of service completed

Paid outpatient sick leave (days)

Paid hospitalisation leave (days)

3

5

15

4

8

30

5

11

45

6 and thereafter

14

60

After 6 months, an employee can avail up to 14 days of paid outpatient sick leave and 60 days of paid hospitalisation leave. The 60 days of paid hospitalisation leave includes the 14 days paid outpatient sick leave entitlement. The Employment Act also requires employees to inform the employer of their absence within 48 hours. Staff should submit their Medical Certificate (MC) when they return to work.

Paid Public Holidays

Singapore employees are entitled to 11 paid public holidays a year, in accordance with the Act. If the worker is required to work on a public holiday, the employer should pay an extra day’s salary or grant him or her a day off in lieu. If specified in the agreement, the employer can substitute the public holiday for another day. If the public holiday falls on any of the rest days, the next working day is considered a paid holiday.

Normal Hours of Work

For common work arrangements, the normal contractual hours of work are as follows:

  • Up to 8 hours a day or 44 hours a week, if employees are required to work more than 5 days a week; or
  • Up to 9 hours a day, or 44 hours a week if employees are required to work 5 days or less a week.

Break times are not included in the calculation of the hours of work.

Payment for Overtime Work

Overtime work is all work in excess of the normal hours of work (excluding breaks). A person can claim overtime if serving as:

  • A non-workman earning up to $2,600;
  • A workman earning up to $4,500.

For overtime work, the employer is required to pay at least 1.5 times the hourly basic rate of pay. Payment must be made within 14 days after the last day of the salary period. You can calculate overtime pay here.

Who is a workman

Generally, a workman refers to a blue-collar worker who operates machinery and vehicles or is involved in manual labour. This includes someone who falls under any of these categories:

  • Does manual work (including artisans and apprentices, but not seafarers or domestic workers);
  • Operates or maintains commercial vehicles with passengers;
  • Supervises manual workers, but also performs manual work more than half their working time;
  • Has a job specified in the First Schedule of the Employment Act, such as cleaner, construction worker, machine operator, etc.

Who is a non-workman

Non-workman refers to a white-collar worker who is not in managerial or executive position, such as clerks and receptionists. More information on the difference between workmen and non-workmen you may find here.

Rest Days

The Singapore employer must provide at least 1 rest day per week that comprises 1 whole day (midnight to midnight). It is not a paid day. For shift workers, the rest day can be a continuous period of 30 hours.

Employment Records

All employers in Singapore are required to maintain detailed employment records of employees covered by the Employment Act in soft or hard copy, including handwritten records. Records must be retained for the past two years for current employees and the last two years (including one year after leaving employment) for ex-employees. Details on what to record can be found here.

Termination

Either the employee or the employer can end an employment relationship by terminating the contract of service. Termination may happen because:

  • The employee resigns;
  • The employer dismisses the employee; or
  • The contract terms have expired, such as when a project or contract period is completed.

Both parties must follow the terms and conditions for termination as stated in the contract of service. If this procedure is not prescribed, the provisions of the EA should be applied.

Here are the basic EA requirements for a termination:

  • Employees must give their employer advance notice in writing. They may also use their annual leave to offset the notice period.
  • If an employee decides to terminate without notice, he or she will have to pay compensation in lieu of notice.
  • The employer is not required to give a reason for termination, as long as due notice has been given.
  • If termination is due to misconduct, the employer must hold an inquiry before taking any disciplinary action. If the employee believes that he or she has been wrongfully dismissed, a wrongful dismissal claim may be filed at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM).

The length of notice period must be the same for the employer and employee. If the employment contract does not specify this period, it will depend on the length of service as follows.

Length of service

Notice period

Less than 26 weeks

1 day

26 weeks to less than 2 years

1 week

2 years to less than 5 years

2 weeks

5 years or more

4 weeks

Penalties

One of the mechanisms Singapore authorities use to protect employees’ rights under the law is penalties imposed for employer misconduct. A company’s failure to comply with the provisions of the Act may lead to a fine of S$5,000 or imprisonment for 6 months for the managers found guilty, or both, for each violation. For a subsequent offense, the penalty rises to as much as $10,000 or imprisonment up to a year, or both.

Compliance Strategy for Employers

Here are some simple compliance strategies you may consider for your Singapore business:

1. Hire an HR Manager

Human Resource (HR) management is a strategic approach to the effective management of people in your company as well as to legal compliance. HR will be responsible for overseeing the design of employee benefits; employee recruitment, training and development; performance appraisals and reward management; along with managing pay and benefit systems. HR also will deal with organisational change and industrial relations, or the balancing of organisational practices with requirements arising from laws.

2. Use Standard Contracts and Templates

A simple and effective way for your firm to achieve a best-practices model in employment relations is to use high-quality drafts of basic employment documents, such as an Offer Letter, Employment Contract, Employment Records, and, a Notice of Termination. Each of these documents, properly created, provides the best protection for the employer-employee relationship.

3. Use an Outsourced Firm

Another reasonable option for assuring your company’s compliance is engaging an outsourced firm to conduct a periodic employment relations compliance audit, prepare the necessary labour documents you will need, and prevent your firm from incurring any penalties.

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Conclusions

Employment laws were put in place to protect workers from mistreatment by their employers. Today, an additional task of these regulations is to ensure flexibility for firms in the course of their business and employment activities.

Singapore's main law in this area, the Employment Act, offers solutions for both of these goals. Consequently, the country has long been recognised as one of the best places for business, thanks in part to its bureaucracy-free and business-friendly labour laws.

We hope this article has helped you understand the most important labour regulations necessary for running your Singapore company. If you need help, please contact our HR experts and they will be glad to assist.

Eddy and Hannah

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