Getting injured at work can be a nightmare. Not only are you anxious about recovering from your injury suffered, you may be worried about dealing with complicated claims against your employer.
Thankfully, in Singapore, the process of claiming is simplified for workers covered by the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA).
What is WICA?
According to TODAY, Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) reported that there is an average of 15,000 work-place injury cases awarded compensation yearly between 2014 and 2016. Of the 15,000 cases each year, an average of 10 per cent of the claims were investigated under WICA. According to MOM, most cases took about four months to be resolved in 2017, and over 95% were resolved within 12 months.
The WICA is a no-fault process which helps employees to make claims for work-related injuries or diseases without having to start a lawsuit. Hence, it is a faster and cheaper than a lawsuit.
Will I be covered under WICA?
As an employee, you fall within the protection of the WICA if you are under a contract of service or a contract of apprenticeship, including internships. The WICA applies irrespective of salary, age, or nationality.
However, WICA does not apply if you are an independent contractor or self-employed. Other groups not covered are domestic workers and uniformed personnel of the Singapore government.
Will I be eligible to claim under WICA?
Generally, you can claim under WICA if you suffered injury from an accident either during work or as a result of work. You can still claim for compensation even if you no longer work for the employer or if your work pass is cancelled.
Furthermore, you are covered under WICA in the following situations:
- Injured in the course of an overseas work assignment.
- Meeting with a traffic accident while taking company transport between your home and workplace.
- Contracting occupational diseases. [According to MOM’s statistics, there has been a 9% rise of occupational disease in 2017. The top three occupational diseases are musculoskeletal disorders, noise-induced deafness, and skin diseases.]
- Contracting a disease from exposure to biological or chemical agents at work.
However, you are not covered under WICA in the following situations:
- Meeting with a traffic accident while travelling in a non-company transport (e.g. your own car, or public transport) between your home and workplace.
- Deliberately injuring yourself or making an existing injury more serious.
- Injuring yourself while under the influence of alcohol or a prescription drug which was not prescribed by a doctor.
For a more detailed list of the situations covered, or not covered under WICA, you may visit MOM’s link here.
Should I seek compensation under WICA or file a lawsuit?
In the unfortunate event that you suffer a workplace injury, you have two options. You may either seek compensation under WICA, or file a lawsuit under common law, but not both. You are given up to one year from the injury or disease to decide which option to take.
There are several key differences between the two options.
Firstly, if you decide to claim under WICA, your claim would be decided by Assistant Commissioners (Work Injury) from MOM. In contrast, if you decide to file a lawsuit, your claim would be decided by a Judge either from the State Courts or the High Court (depending on the value of damages claimed for).
Secondly, under WICA, you only need to prove that the injury from a workplace accident or the disease arose out of and in the course of your employment. You do not need to prove that your employer was at fault. Importantly, there is a presumption under WICA that an accident arising during your employment shall be deemed to have arisen out of your employment. The presumption can be rebutted by contrary evidence. If you need help, officers from MOM can guide you through the claim process. Interpreters who speak Bengali, Tamil, Mandarin, and Malay are available.
In contrast, you will probably need a lawyer’s assistance to file a lawsuit. In court, you have to prove that your employer was at fault for your injury or disease. You have to prove that this was due to your employer’s negligence to follow reasonable standards of care. Furthermore, you must have suffered damage which must have been reasonably foreseeable. Your employer can raise various defences to your claim. For example, if you have been partly responsible for the accident, or if you have committed some illegal acts. A successful defence can either lower or eliminate your claim amount.
Thirdly, you can complete your WICA claim through MOM for free. However, you can still seek legal advice on your own regarding how the compensation amount is assessed. Take note that the compensation amount is based on a formula (covered in detail below). Hence, there is a limit to how much you can receive.
In contrast, you will have to pay legal fees and other charges, e.g. court filing fees, to file a lawsuit. Do consider carefully because this option might be more expensive. However, there is no limit to the compensation amount you can receive. If you are a foreign worker, you may seek help at Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) like TWC2, H.O.M.E., HealthServe, or Migrant Workers’ Centre (contacts provided below).
What are the types of compensation I can receive under WICA?
The types of compensation you can receive under WICA include medical leave wages, medical expenses, and lump sum compensation.
For medical leave wages, you can claim for working days covered either by medical leave issued by Singapore registered doctors, or hospitalisation leave. The rates and limits for medical leave wages are as follows:
|Outpatient medical leave||Hospitalisation leave||Your medical leave wages is calculated based on|
|Up to 14 days||Up to 60 Days||Your full average monthly earnings|
|15th day onwards, up to one year from the accident||61st day onwards, up to one year from the accident||2/3 of average monthly earnings|
These are some useful tools which you can use to determine your medical leave wages:
For medical expenses, you can claim for hospital bills, consultation fees, and medication etc. incurred because of the work injury (for a more detailed list, click here). Some treatments such as physiotherapist, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and chiropractic treatment etc. are required to be carried out by Singapore registered medical practitioners.
These are some links which you can perform a search on to determine if your medical practitioner is registered in Singapore:
- Singapore Medical Council
- Allied Health Professions Council (e.g. physiotherapist)
- Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner Board
- The Chiropractic Association (Singapore)
In an unfortunate event of permanent incapacity or death, you or your family can claim a lump sum compensation. After 1 January 2016, the new limits for work injury claims are as follows:
|Compensation type||Minimum limit||Maximum limit|
$36,000 or medical expenses incurred up to one year from the date of the accident, whichever comes first
|Permanent Incapacity||$88,000 x (% permanent incapacity)||$262,000 x (% permanent incapacity)|
Permanent incapacity (% PI) is based on a doctor’s assessment after the medical condition stabilises and assessed with reference to an assessment guide.
According to a Straits Times article in April 2017, at least six workers received between $272,500 and $327,500 (more than the claim caps stated above) since January 2016. Mr Meng Xiangbo, 39, a construction worker from China, got the highest amount of $327,500. He was crushed by a concrete slab which left him paralysed from below his waist. The higher awards (above the claim caps) are given because the compensation amount will be topped up with an additional 25% if the doctor awards 100% PI.
These are some useful tools which you can use to determine the lump sum compensation:
How do I file a claim under WICA?
The moment you suffer a work injury or illness, you should report it to your employer as soon as possible. Also inform your work colleagues at the place and time of accident. Take photographs of your injury and place of accident (which should record the date and time). Make sure you are quickly brought to a medical doctor to diagnose and treat you. Be sure to take the original MC from the doctor and the medical bills. Make a photocopy or photograph of the MC and medical bills. These are all important for you to prove your WICA claim later and also to prove that you suffered the injury at work. By right, your employer is obliged to pay your medical bills. If not, and you paid first, you can claim for the expenses.
If you had a serious injury, and you only got a short MC or light duties, you should report the matter to MOM. You should also alert MOM if your employer does not pay your medical bills or medical leave wages, or does not report to MOM about your injury (for serious injuries). Your employer is required by law to report to MOM about your accident if you have more than 3 days MC or more than 24 hours hospitalisation.
The WICA claim filing process depends on whether the work injury which you have suffered is a non-permanent, or permanent incapacity.
If you have suffered a non-permanent incapacity, you should report the accident to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer is required to compensate for your medical leave wages and treatment related to the work accident.
If you have suffered a permanent incapacity, you must file a claim within one year from the accident. The filing process is as follows:
- Report the accident to your employer as soon as possible to prevent any disputes on whether your injury or illness is work-related.
- Your employer should report the accident to MOM who will send you a claim application form.
- You will have to decide whether you wish to make the claim under WICA. If yes, MOM will process the claim. If not, MOM will send you an acknowledgement that you do not wish to claim under WICA.
- If you wish to claim under WICA, you will need to go for a medical assessment to assess the extent of your incapacity.
- After the medical assessment, MOM will send you, your employer, and the insurer a notice of the assessment (“NOA”), as well as the compensation amount.
- If there is no objection, your employer, or your employer’s insurer, is required to issue the compensation cheque within 21 days from the date of service of the NOA. Your employer is given a limit of 14 days from the date of service of the NOA to raise any objections. However, once you have received compensation, your case is considered resolved. Hence, you cannot file a lawsuit against your employer later.
Note that your employer is required to pay your medical leave and expenses to you first. This is regardless whether they had received reimbursement from their insurance company. Failure to pay compensation is an offence, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 or jail of up to 12 months, or both.
If a WICA Order has been issued in your favour, you can enforce the Order yourself at the Bailiff’s section in the State Courts at 1 Havelock Square, Singapore 059724.
Can my employer dispute my claim under WICA?
Yes, your employer can dispute your claim in two ways.
First, your employer can object to a permanent incapacity assessment. In this scenario, your injury will be will be re-assessed by a panel comprising of two senior consultants by the Work Injury Compensation Medical Board.
Secondly, your employer can object to whether the injury or disease is work-related, or your average monthly earnings in the NOA is correct. In this scenario, a pre-hearing conference by MOM will be held. Your employer must provide supporting documents and evidence then.
As a foreign worker, can I be sent back to my home country while my WICA claim is still being processed?
No, your employer cannot send you back to your home country if MOM requires you to stay in Singapore. Please report to the ICA officers at the immigration checkpoints if you are forced to go home. They will contact MOM for you.
Can I withdraw my WICA claim to file a lawsuit?
Yes, you can withdraw your WICA claim at any time before the NOA is issued. Once the NOA has been issued, you can only withdraw within 14 days if there are no objections, and 28 days if there are objections from the date of service of the NOA. If you decide to file a lawsuit, the time bar is 3 years from the date of the accident.
According to a Straits Times article in 2017, there are about 800 injured workers who annually withdraw their WICA claims to file a lawsuit. In one case, Chinese national Xu Zhenbing failed to prove his claim, and had to pay $35,000 in costs instead. Hence, do carefully consider whether to claim under WICA or a lawsuit, because the legal requirements are different.
What happens if I commit an offence under WICA?
If you are a foreign employee, your work permit will be revoked. You will not be allowed to return to Singapore to work. Additionally, those convicted of making fraudulent claims may be fined up to S$15,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months. Those convicted of furnishing false information may be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed up to six months.
For example, a Channel NewsAsia article in 2016 reported that Bangladeshi national Rahman FR Mostafizur was sentenced to 11 week’s jail for making a fraudulent claim under WICA.
Who can I contact if I suspect my employer is trying to avoid a work injury claim?
You can contact MOM for help at +65 6438 5122, or via efeedback for work claims. If your employer does not report your work accident, you can report to MOM via iReport. If you are a foreign worker, you can contact various NGOs who help migrant workers, or your respective embassies/high commissioners.
Have a question on workplace injuries?
If you have any questions regarding workplace injuries, you can get a Quick Consult with Ronald JJ Wong or with other lawyers. With Quick Consult, a lawyer will call you back on the phone to give you legal advice from a transparent, flat fee of $49.
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.