Blacklisting an Employee in Singapore: Is It Legal?

Last updated on June 14, 2021

employee looking worried

If you are an employer who has had a bad experience with a difficult or errant employee, and have terminated his/her contract of service, you might be considering your options to warn or alert others about that employee. If so, you might have come across the term “blacklisting” and its use in the employment context.

This article will explore whether such a practice is legal, and whether there are alternatives to “blacklisting” a foreign or local ex-employee in Singapore. It will cover:

What is “Blacklisting”?

“Blacklisting” refers to actions taken that make it more difficult for employees to get hired elsewhere after leaving their previous employment. Such actions can be undertaken by the employers themselves, in the form of circulating a message to others in the industry to not hire the ex-employee, or providing a bad reference when a prospective employer calls to inquire about the ex-employee.

Alternatively, “blacklisting” can also be done by government authorities in certain situations, as will be elaborated on below.

Can Employers Blacklist an Employee in Singapore?

Employers in Singapore do not have the final say as to whether an ex-employee is to be “blacklisted” or prevented from working in Singapore. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), as the government agency responsible for the implementation of employment laws and regulations in Singapore, is the authority that decides whether someone is eligible to work in Singapore.

However, after terminating the employment of their employee, which employers are entitled to do in the event of employee misconduct, employers can take certain steps that can have the effect of “blacklisting” their ex-employees.

For employees, employers can indicate to MOM that they wish to provide a reference for their ex-employee, and that they wish to share what they observed about the ex-employee’s conduct, character, work attitude or performance. Such foreign employees can be employment pass holders, work permit holders or foreign domestic workers.

If they are keen to provide a reference, employers will have to leave their personal details and contact details, as well as the details of the ex-employee with MOM using the appropriate feedback forms:

Work pass type Feedback form
Employment Pass, S Pass and other passes You can access the feedback form here.
Work Permit You can access the feedback form here.

Then, upon receiving an application by a prospective employer for a work pass for the same employee, MOM will inform the prospective employer that they have received feedback about the employee. If the prospective employer wishes to find out more, MOM will connect them with the ex-employer who had provided the reference.

If the prospective employer does not wish to find out more, or if they decide to hire the employee even after receiving the feedback, MOM will proceed to process the application as per normal.

Apart from this process of accepting references by employers, MOM also maintains a list of foreigners who are banned from obtaining employment in Singapore because they have previously been found guilty of an offence under Singapore law, including offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act or criminal offences.

For local employees, employers can lodge a complaint with MOM regarding their local employee’s behaviour. However, it is up to MOM to decide if any further action should be taken with respect to those employees.

What are the Offences Employers Can be Penalised For When Blacklisting Employees?

Employers who wish to “blacklist” ex-employees of their own accord should be wary of committing other offences in the process, which they can be penalised for.

For example, after terminating their contract of service with an ex-employee, one particular employer wanted to inform prospective employers in the industry about that ex-employee and sent out emails to discourage them from hiring him. In breach of the provisions of the Personal Data Protection Act, however, the employer included the name and identity card number of the ex-employee in the emails without his consent. As a result, the employer was issued a warning by the Personal Data Protection Commission.

Other than falling foul of the Personal Data Protection Act, employers who “blacklist” ex-employees could also potentially be committing other criminal offences such as:

Offence Description Examples
Criminal intimidation It is an offence to threaten another person with any injury to his/her person, reputation or property, with intent to cause alarm to that person.
  • Threatening to reveal information of an ex-employee that will hurt his/her reputation if he/she seeks employment in the same industry.
  • In the process of “blacklisting” their ex-employee, threatening to reveal information of that ex-employee that will hurt his/her reputation if he/she makes a complaint to MOM.
Causing harassment, alarm or distress It is an offence to use any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or make any threatening, abusive or insulting communication, which is heard, seen or otherwise perceived by any person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
  • Using abusive language towards an ex-employee when warning him/her to not seek employment in the same industry, or when threatening to blacklist the ex-employee.

Additionally, while “blacklisting” might not be discriminatory per se, employers should be aware of the need to abide by fair employment practices at all times. This means that they should be recruiting, assessing and dismissing employees on the basis of their merit (such as skills, experience or ability to perform the job), instead of on the basis of the employee’s age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities or disability.

Therefore, an employer must not “blacklist” an ex-employee for reasons other than merit or employee misconduct (which could include theft, dishonesty, disorderly or immoral conduct at work and insubordination). Employers who do so can be penalised by MOM.

What are Alternatives to Blacklisting an Employee?

As mentioned above, one alternative to “blacklisting” an employee is to either indicate that you wish to provide a reference for your foreign ex-employee, or to write to MOM to lodge a complaint or provide feedback about a local employee’s behaviour.

Additionally, conducting the appropriate background checks on prospective employees prior to their employment may also prevent the need to blacklist them in the future.

For example, if you are looking to employ a foreign domestic worker, you can obtain the employment history of the worker from the employment agency, or from the Work Permit Online system accessible via MOM’s website.

As an alternative to “blacklisting” ex-employees, there are readily available channels to report the behaviour of ex-employees to MOM, which can serve the same purpose of alerting other prospective employers about them.

However, if you have been charged with a blacklisting-related offence, like one of the offences stated above, you might want to consider engaging a lawyer who can help you assess the merits of your position and advise on your legal options moving forward.

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