Employer’s Negligence

Employer cannot rely on the fact that its worker did not have a work permit, to deny claim for damages arising out of employer’s negligence.

In a recent decision of May 2017, the Singapore High Court awarded an injured worker 80% of his claim for damages although the defendants (namely the employer Dongwu Steel Industry Pte Ltd and the employer’s director Mr Chen) argued that the worker was not entitled to claim as he was working for Dongwu without a permit.

At the time of the accident, the worker was employed by another company (SPG Marine) with a work permit only for his work for SPG Marine, and was moonlighting at Dongwu’s worksite at the instructions of Mr Chen.

The defendants argued that public policy militated against imposing a duty of care on the defendants as employers, as any contract of service entered into between the parties would have been contrary to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act which clearly prohibits moonlighting by foreign employees. This argument was not accepted by the High Court as the judge noted that it “blatantly ignores the fact that the defendants themselves had breached the law by employing a foreign worker without a valid work permit to work for them”.

What this case tells us:

Do not assume that there is some lower degree of duty of care towards workers who assist on a shorter term basis. Employers should not “discriminate against employees whom they choose to hire despite knowing that it is illegal”.

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