Given the broad scope of this subject on workplace safety, workplace injuries, and the law, this guide will be presented in three parts, each addressing one of the following key areas:
- What is the employer’s “Golden Rule” in the context of workplace safety;
- Is it sufficient for employers to follow industry-wide practices for employee safety measures? And,
- How should employees obtain work injury compensation for workplace accidents
In the first article of the series, we looked at what is the employer’s “Golden Rule” in the context of workplace safety, while the second article, we explored how far employers have to implement this “Golden Rule” in the day-to-day operations of the employees, and whether it is simply sufficient to follow standard industry practices in preventing workplace injuries.
In this third and final article of the series, we go through the steps needed to claim work injury compensation for workplace accidents, and briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages between choosing to file a claim for workplace injury compensation with the Ministry of Manpower, and choosing to file a civil lawsuit under the common law against your employer or the party at fault (as the case may be).
Workplace accidents can drastically change lives
According to statistics released by Singapore’s Workplace Safety & Health (WSH) Institute – a division under the Ministry of Manpower – there were 13,014 cases of workplace accidents reported in 2016. Of these cases, 66 of them were fatal, while 594 cases involved major injuries. Among the 594 cases involving major injuries, 55% of the cases involved crushing, fractures and dislocations, while 24.1% of the injured (or 143 workers) had to have their limbs amputated.
According to the WSH Institute, there was only 1 case of paralysis reported in 2016. But the nature of data is such that it only shows one side of the story, and not the very real repercussions of a major injury like having your limb amputated, or being paralysed. Yet, that sole incident of paralysis cited by the WSH Institute has a human face: That of a 39-year-old father of two young children, Mr Meng Xiangbo. Mr Meng was paralysed from the waist down when a slab of pre-fabricated concrete wall being hoisted by a crane fell on him. He not only lost the ability to walk or even to control his bladder and bowels, but even the ability to be the sole breadwinner of his family. The reason behind the accident? The crane operator did not see him.
Generally, there are two routes to claim compensation for work injuries
When an employee is injured, they may either make a claim under the common law against their employer or the party at fault; or they may file a claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) as administered by the Ministry of Manpower. However, an employee may only seek compensation under one route only. An employee cannot make both claims.
According to The Straits Times, in the case of Mr Meng Xiangbo, he opted to claim compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act because he wanted to return home to China and not continue to drag out his case in the courts. He reportedly received S$327,500 in compensation – which The Straits Times said was the highest amount that injured workers who have been medically certified as completely disabled and unable to work for the rest of their lives can receive under the Work Injury Compensation Act. This is currently the limit of compensation payable under WICA.
What is the Work Injury Compensation Act, and who is covered under it?
Under the Work Injury Compensation Act, employees can submit a claim if they were injured in a work accident, or suffered a disease due to work, without having to file a lawsuit under common law. Compared to filing a lawsuit, this option is generally cheaper when it comes to settling compensation claims since you do not need to engage a lawyer to file the claim. The process for filing a claim may be found here.
All employees regardless of salary level may file WICA claim, except for independent contractors and self-employed persons, domestic workers, and uniformed personnel (such as members of the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Central Narcotics Bureau and the Singapore Prison Service). You are still eligible to claim for compensation even if you no longer work for the employer, or if you work pass is cancelled. Moreover, if the accident happened while you were overseas on assignment, you would still be eligible to claim for compensation if the accident occurred in the course of your overseas assignment.
The Work Injury Compensation Act allows you to claim medical leave wages, medical expenses, and lump-sum compensation for permanent incapacity or death. All claims can be made up to one year from the date of the accident taking place.
What’s the difference between claiming under the WICA and filing a lawsuit?
If you make a claim under WICA, your claim will be decided by the Ministry of Manpower’s Assistant Commissioners (Work Injury Compensation). Your claim will be decided based on your medical reports and the WICA guidelines. You do not need to be represented by a lawyer as officers from Ministry of Manpower will guide you through the claim process – but they will not be able to offer any legal advice to claimants. Hence, you may still wish to engage a lawyer to advise you if you have questions about the amount of compensation assessed.
When you file a lawsuit, your claim will be decided by a Judge in either the State Courts of the High Court. This means you will generally need a lawyer to argue your case. If legal fees are a concern, migrant workers who need legal assistance may seek help at legal clinics such as those organised by the Migrant Workers’ Centre for free.
Under a WICA claim, you do not need to prove that someone was at fault or negligent for causing your accident – which means that you do not need to provide additional evidence to prove your case. However, there is a maximum cap on the compensation sum that you can receive, based on the percentage of your permanent incapacity for work.
In a lawsuit, you must prove that your employer or someone else was at fault, but there is no limit to the amount of money that you may be awarded. Furthermore, several claims such as loss of future earnings or future medical expenses can only be made in a lawsuit and not under a WICA claim.
In summary, if you are able to prove that your employer or someone else was to blame for your accident, or if your injuries have long-lasting consequences, you may wish to file a lawsuit as this can allow you to recover a larger sum. But if you are unable to prove that your employer was at fault, it may be preferable for you to make a WICA claim.
Important Deadlines You Should Know!
Since you are only allowed to either file a claim with the Ministry of Manpower under the Work Injury Compensation Act or launch a lawsuit against your employer, it is very important that you understand the relevant deadlines in case you change your mind halfway.
If you initially filed a civil suit against your employer, but you’ve changed your mind and now decide to file a claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act, you still make your claim within one year from the date of the accident or when you were diagnosed with your illness.
If you wish to withdraw your claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), and instead file a lawsuit against your employer, the time bar is 3 years from the date of the accident. However, once the Ministry of Manpower has issued you a “notice of assessment (NOA)”, you need to withdraw your claim within 14 days from the date of service on the NOA if there are no disputes, or within 28 days from the date of service on the NOA if there are disputes.
If both you and the employer accepts the NOA, then you should receive payment from your employer (or the company’s insurer, if applicable) within 21 days from the date of service of NOA. Once that happens, your case is then considered resolved, and you will no longer be able to file a claim by launching a lawsuit against your employer.
We hope this series of articles help both the employer and employee on the regulation surrounding workplace safety and injuries. If in doubt, it is always recommended to seek a lawyer’s advice.
Have a question on workplace injury disputes?
If you need advice on workplace injury matters, you can get a Quick Consult with Viviene or other lawyers. With Quick Consult, you can check out in minutes and for a transparent, flat fee of S$49, the lawyers will call you back on the phone within 1-2 days to answer your questions and give you legal advice.
This article is written by Viviene Sandhu from Clifford Law and edited by Tang Chee Seng from Asia Law Network.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.