Guide to Choosing a Good Employment Lawyer in Singapore
Employment lawyers handle employment-related matters, and they are well-versed in the legal landscape surrounding employment practices. Both employers and employees engage employment lawyers to assist them with employment-related legal matters, which are primarily governed by the Employment Act (EA).
This article will cover what an employment lawyer can do for you and how to find a suitable employment lawyer for your legal needs. It will discuss:
Why Might You Need An Employment Lawyer?
If you are an employer
If you are an employer, an employment lawyer can help you navigate the various regulations governing hiring practices in Singapore. Examples of such regulations include being required to make Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions for your employees as per the CPF Act and having to issue itemised pay slips to employees covered by the Employment Act. Employment lawyers can advise you on the specific requirements pertaining to these regulations and help ensure that you adhere to them.
In addition, here are some services commonly provided by employment lawyers to employers:
- Drafting employment contracts and other relevant documents: Employment contracts set out the terms and conditions of employment, such as the employee’s working hours and salary to be paid by the employer. An employment lawyer can help you draft the employment contract in order to ensure legal precision and comprehensiveness, as well as include in the contract any special employment clauses which are usually specified by the employer. Employment lawyers can also draft other documents such as employee handbooks which set out your company policies, along with employees’ rights and obligations.
- Guidance on hiring foreign workers: Hiring foreign workers can be a complex process, with differing application procedures and passes required for different skill levels of workers, as well as requirements for levies and quotas of workers in different industries. An employment lawyer can guide you on the procedures you need to adhere to if you are looking to hire foreign workers. For more information on hiring foreign workers, you may refer to our article on the employment of foreign workers in Singapore.
- Data protection advisory: Employment lawyers specialised in data protection law can advise you on how to protect your employees’ data and personal information to ensure compliance with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). This may include providing guidance on the collection, use and disposal of employees’ data in adherence with the PDPA and reviewing your company’s existing data protection policies. To find out more about compliance with the PDPA for Singapore businesses, you may refer to our article which provides an essential PDPA compliance guide for businesses in Singapore.
If you are an employee
An employment lawyer can help employees better understand the legal rights and obligations stemming from their employment. In particular, employment lawyers can help employees deal with complex employment disputes. The following are examples of such disputes and how an employment lawyer can help you:
- Workplace abuse: This occurs when employees suffer abuse at the hands of their colleagues or superiors within toxic workplace environments, and includes sexual harassment. An employment lawyer can assist you by assessing your situation and evaluating the strengths of your case. The lawyer can then give you sound advice on the most suitable course of action to take and guide you on the next steps.
- Unfair dismissal: Employees might feel that they have been unfairly dismissed if they are asked to leave the company without sufficient grounds of reason. An employment lawyer can determine if you have a valid cause of action and if you do, represent you in bringing an action to court against your employer.
- Discriminatory hiring: Employers engage in discriminatory hiring when they recruit employees based on attributes such as race, religion, age, gender, nationality or marital status instead of their level of competency or capability. An employment lawyer can guide you through the process of filing a claim with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) or the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT), and if both avenues are unsuccessful, they can help you file a civil claim in the Magistrates’ Court. More information about the TADM is provided below.
- Unpaid salaries: Employees who are not paid their rightful salaries by their employers have a few avenues of recourse open to them, which you can read more about in our article on employee salaries. An employment lawyer can help determine the amount of compensation you are entitled to and advise you on the most cost-efficient way to recover your unpaid salary.
Apart from employment lawyers, are there other avenues of assistance for employment disputes?
In certain situations, especially if you are an employee, it might be advisable to seek initial advice from other agencies such as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) before seeking independent legal advice on your issue. Here is a brief overview of the services provided by such agencies and the types of situations they cover:
- MOM: MOM oversees work injury compensation cases by allowing employees to claim for work-related injuries or diseases without having to engage a lawyer to file a suit in the civil courts. MOM also deals with cases of employment infringement, such as violations of the EA or violations of workplace health and safety regulations.
- TADM: The TADM provides advisory and mediation services targeted at resolving claims related to salaries and wrongful dismissals. If your dispute cannot be resolved via mediation at the TADM, you may then seek recourse from the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT).
- TAFEP: TAFEP provides advice and assistance to employees facing workplace discrimination or harassment. Hence, if you feel that you are being unfairly discriminated against or harassed in the workplace, you may seek recourse from TAFEP.
For more information, you may refer to our other article on how employees can seek help for employment disputes without having to engage an employment lawyer.
However, if these avenues of redress do not work, produce an unsatisfactory result or there is simply no amicable means of resolving the dispute at hand such as through mediation, you may need to engage an employment lawyer to assist you. This is especially so if the case is particularly severe or complex. A complex case might involve multiple claims and parties—for instance, it could include both workplace abuse and discrimination, with abuse being inflicted by more than one party. Severe cases could include persistent abuse over a long period of time, with the abuser exhibiting especially egregious behaviour such as using extreme threats, highly abusive language or even engaging in physical violence.
It might be helpful to do some research beforehand on the specific legal service that you require; this can help you narrow down your search for lawyers who are experienced in that particular area or employment matter. To learn more about employment law and specific matters within this area (for both employers and employees), do refer to our list of resources on employment law.
Finding Employment Lawyers in Singapore
Before embarking on your search for an employment lawyer, it is important to understand the different types of employment lawyers that are practising in Singapore. This way, you can get a better sense of the kinds of cases that different lawyers handle, as well as the fees that they charge for their services.
Area of practice
Different employment lawyers may specialise in varying niche areas of employment law. For instance, some lawyers specialise in work injury compensation cases, while others may have more expertise in wrongful termination cases. Additionally, the lawyer you engage could also depend on whether you are an employer or employee; some lawyers have more experience assisting employees while others focus on employer-specific matters such as advising on hiring practices.
Complexity of your case
When deciding whether to engage an employment lawyer from a small or large firm, you would need to consider the level of complexity of your case. For more complex cases involving a large number of employees spanning across countries (e.g. employees who are contracted to the parent company in one country and the subsidiary in another country), a larger law firm would likely be more suitable since they tend to be equipped with more resources to handle your case. On the other hand, if you are dealing with more straightforward cases of a smaller scale, such as drafting employment contracts or hiring foreign workers, a small firm or solo practitioner would likely be sufficient.
Shortlisting an employment lawyer
There are various ways to shortlist an employment lawyer. Reviews and referrals from trusted peers who have previously engaged an employment lawyer could be a good way to narrow down your search as this method allows you to get a good sense of the lawyer’s capability and rapport with clients. You could also make use of online advertisements or Internet searches, which are both convenient ways to kickstart your search. Alternatively, you may refer to our directory of employment lawyers or our “Find a Lawyer” service.
Choosing Your Employment Lawyer
After you have shortlisted the potential lawyers you want to work with, you should come up with some questions to ask during the initial consultation. This is important as it helps you get a deeper understanding of the lawyer/firm that you are working with, which may not be attained by simply looking up the firm’s website or reviews.
Here are some examples of questions to ask during the consultation:
- What kind of legal services does the lawyer/firm provide?
- What is the cost of the legal services required for your matter? What is the fee structure like?
- What is the set-up of the firm, and who will you be dealing with? Even though you will be dealing with an employment lawyer, it is helpful to know his/her position in the law firm e.g. junior associate, senior associate or partner. This information can give you some insight into his/her years of experience in the legal profession, as well as his/her level of expertise in dealing with your case. To understand more about the hierarchy of lawyers within law firms, you may refer to our article on the types of lawyers in Singapore.
- What is the mode of communication between you and the lawyer, and how frequently will he/she be available?
- What is the lawyer’s area of specialisation within employment law?
- Does the lawyer/firm have experience handling similar cases pertaining to your issue? What was the outcome/result of those cases?
These questions will help you obtain crucial information so that you can make the final decision on which lawyer/firm best suits your legal needs for your employment-related matters.
Regardless of whether you are an employer or employee, employment disputes can be highly stressful and time-consuming; hence, it is important to select a suitable employment lawyer based on your legal needs to help smoothen the process. Even if you are not involved in an employment dispute, an employment lawyer can guide you through everyday business procedures such as drafting employment contracts as well as more procedurally complex matters such as hiring foreign workers.
If you are in need of further advice or guidance, do refer to our list of experienced employment lawyers in Singapore.
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