Working Remotely in Singapore for an Overseas Company: Legal Issues to Note

Last updated on February 2, 2024

Man working remotely at home on laptop

According to the Global Remote Work Index 2023, which ranks countries on their quality as remote working destinations based on four areas: cybersecurity, economics, infrastructure, and social safety, Singapore emerged as the 28th best country for remote working, out of 108 countries that were considered. It is thus perhaps unsurprising that remote working has, and will become increasingly common among Singaporeans.

While the benefits of remote working, such as being able to be close to one’s loved ones and having more flexibility as to one’s working environment, are well-known, the potential legal issues that may arise for remote workers working from Singapore for an overseas employer, are less spoken of. This article will discuss the following topics:

What is a Remote Worker?

A remote worker is an employee who does his/her job from a location other than the physical office operated by the employer. Such locations may range from the employee’s home, or even a co-working space. The location need not even be in the country as that of the office operated by the employer. For example, if the employer is based in London and has no office in Singapore, but would like to hire a Singaporean employee, the employer can allow the employee to work remotely from Singapore, and he/she would be considered a remote worker.

Some common job roles which have the most opportunities for remote work include: web developers, software engineers, translators, editors, data scientists, cyber security, copywriters, account managers, architects, and data analysts.

What Laws Apply to Remote Workers Hired by an Overseas Company?

The main statute governing labour law in Singapore is the Employment Act (EA). It provides for the basic terms and conditions at work for employees covered by the EA.

The EA covers all employees (regardless of nationality) so long as they work under a contract of service with an employer (i.e. an agreement in which the employer agrees to employ a person as an employee, and the person agrees to serve the employer as an employee), with the exception of seamen, domestic workers, and any person employed by a statutory board or the Government.

The EA also applies regardless of the type of employment structure that you are under. The three most common types of employment structures are set out and briefly explained below:

  • Full-time employment: Full-time employees typically work an average of 40 hours a week and are paid a monthly salary. They are eligible for employment benefits such as medical and dental benefits, paid annual leave etc.
  • Part-time employment: Typically, part-time employees work less than 35 hours a week and are paid by the hour, rather than a monthly salary. Part-time employees are also usually eligible for employment benefits that full-time employees enjoy.
  • Independent contractor/freelancer: Independent contractors/freelancers are persons who are sourced by a company to perform work or services for a particular project or over a fixed period of time. They typically are not required to put in fixed hours, and the monetary compensation that they receive is tied to the particular work or service that they are contracted to perform.

Thus, the position is relatively straightforward if you are an employee of a Singapore-based employer – your employment relationship with your employer will be regulated by the EA.

However, if you are a remote worker employed by a foreign company and working in Singapore, it is not as clear if you will be covered under the EA. While the provisions of the EA are broad enough such that they can cover remote workers based in and working in Singapore, regardless of where their employer is based, the EA does not expressly spell out its territorial scope. In contrast, the labour laws of certain other countries expressly define the territorial scope of their legislation. For example, in Australia, certain employment rights apply to all employees working in Australia as well as employees of an Australian-based employer, regardless of where the employee works from. In Ontario, Canada, the labour legislation also applies to work performed outside Ontario, so long as it is a continuation of work performed in Ontario.

Therefore, there may be situations where the employer may argue that the remote worker should not be able to avail him/herself of the protection of the EA. Two such scenarios are set out below:

  1. Scenario 1: You are hired as a full-time employee in Singapore. The company is headquartered overseas and does not have any presence in Singapore (i.e. the company does not have a branch office in Singapore). As your employment contract is entered into between yourself and the overseas headquarters directly, the contract is drafted according to the laws of that country, and not Singapore law. As such, the contract expressly states that the governing law of the contract is the law of the foreign country, and also that the provisions of the law of the foreign country will apply because they relate to your underlying work and employment relationship more than the law of Singapore. In this scenario, the employer would likely be able to successfully argue that you should not be able to come within the protection of the EA.
  2. Scenario 2: You are hired as a full-time employee in Singapore. The company is headquartered overseas and does not have any presence in Singapore. However, your employment contract is silent on the governing law (i.e. it is not specified in the contract whether the law of the foreign country or the law of Singapore will apply). In such a situation, depending on certain relevant but non-exhaustive factors such as where you live, where the employer’s head office is based, and other administrative details connected with the employment (e.g. where and in what currency your salary is paid), a case could be made either way as to whether the EA applies to your employment relationship or not. Naturally, the less of a connection there is to Singapore, the stronger the employer’s case that you should not be able to avail yourself of the protection of the EA.

What Can Remote Workers Do in the Event of a Dispute With Their Overseas Employer?

At the outset, if you are a remote worker and you get into an employment dispute with your overseas employer, you may potentially face procedural and practical difficulties with bringing your claim against your overseas employer, for the following reasons:

  1. First, in Singapore, one of the main avenues for resolving employment disputes is the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT), which is a tribunal under the State Courts. The ECT covers any employee protected under the EA and handles salary-related and wrongful dismissal claims. However, claims filed in the ECT cannot be served on persons or entities outside Singapore. Such procedural and practical difficulties would not pose as much of a problem if your employment contract is with the Singapore branch office of an overseas employer, in which case, your employment dispute will just be against a Singaporean entity.
  2. Second, even if you wish to bring your claim in the country in which your overseas employer is based, you may not be able to do so. While many other countries have local labour tribunals (similar in nature and function to that of the ECT) which are dedicated to addressing employment disputes, employees who are employed abroad may not be able to seek recourse before such tribunals.

Therefore, in the event of a dispute with your overseas employer, the option that is most likely to be available is to file a private claim in the civil courts, whether in Singapore or in the country in which your overseas employer is based. However, this may require you to engage lawyers in Singapore and/or in the country in which your overseas employer is based, who will assist you in pursuing your claim.

Further, commencing a private claim in the civil courts can be a lengthy and often costly process, which may be further complicated by the need to navigate a foreign and unfamiliar legal landscape.

What are Some Practical Steps that Remote Workers Can Take to Protect Their Interests/Safeguard Their Employment Rights?

If you are considering taking up a role as a remote worker with an overseas employer, these are a few steps that you can and should take to ensure that your interests are protected:

  1. You should review the terms of your contract/employment agreement carefully, and make sure that you agree with all the terms in your contract before signing on it. A good starting point for what to look out for are Key Employment Terms, which all contracts of service governed by the EA must contain. Such terms include your working arrangements (e.g. expected working hours and rest days), salary-related terms (e.g. basic salary, salary period, allowances, deductions, overtime rate of pay), leave entitlements, medical benefits, probation period and notice period. Other terms that you may wish to look out for are whether there is adequate insurance coverage, and any termination provisions. If any of the abovementioned terms are not expressly provided for in your contract/employment agreement, you should consider asking for them to be inserted.
  2. If the contract/employment agreement is unclear as to what the applicable laws are, you should also clarify with your prospective employer the applicable laws, and possibly even request that it be specified in the contract/employment agreement to minimise any unnecessary confusion if a dispute arises.

Due to the unique circumstances of remote workers, it is less clear what employment rights and protections remote workers enjoy, as compared to a traditional employment relationship where the employee and employer are based in the same location. Further, there may be practical and procedural difficulties in even enforcing such rights and availing oneself of such protections.

Thus, if you are considering a remote working position, you may wish to seek further guidance and advice from an employment lawyer on any of the above issues. An employment lawyer will also be able to help with reviewing your contract/employment agreement to ensure that the terms contained therein are sufficiently clear to protect your interests.

In the event of a dispute, an employment disputes lawyer will be able to advise you on your rights, as well as assist you in making any claims against your employer.

Hiring Employees
  1. How to Hire Remote Employees for Your Singapore Company
  2. Letter of Consent in Singapore: Eligibility and How to Apply
  3. Employment for the Disabled in Singapore: Laws and Schemes
  4. Overview of Employment Law in Singapore
  5. How to Hire Employees in Singapore: Step-by-Step Guide
  6. What is the Minimum Legal Age for Working in Singapore?
  7. How to Hire Foreign Workers in Singapore
  8. Work From Home Policy: Things to Consider & How to Write One
  9. Preparing an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) in Singapore
  10. Guide to Re-Employment and Retirement in Singapore
Employer Obligations
  1. Guide to Maternity Leave for Expecting Mothers in Singapore
  2. Ex Gratia Payments: What are They & When do Employers Pay Them?
  3. What is the Difference Between Wages, Salaries and Remuneration?
  4. Sick Leave Entitlements for Employees in Singapore
  5. A Guide to Company Leave Entitlements in Singapore
  6. CPF-Payable Contributions in Singapore: A Guide for Employers
  7. Progressive Wage Model: Minimum Wage Laws in Singapore
  8. Work-Life Balance Laws and Policies in Singapore: A Guide
  9. Mental Health Policies for Singapore Workplaces (Tripartite Advisory)
  10. An Employer’s Guide to Reimbursement of Expenses and Claims
  11. Code of Practice for Workplace Safety & Health: What Employers Should Know
  12. How to Issue Payslips to Your Employees in Singapore
  13. Can Muslims Legally Wear the Tudung at Work in Singapore?
  14. The Expecting Father's Guide to Paternity Leave in Singapore
  15. Who is Covered Under the Singapore Employment Act?
  16. Employment Rights of Interns and Trainees in Singapore
  17. Employee Salary: Calculations, Deductions, Unpaid Salary & More
  18. CPF Contribution of Employees and Employers, Rates & More
  19. Can Your Boss Ask You to Work on a Public Holiday in Singapore?
  20. How to Write a Fair and Accurate Employee Reference Letter
  21. What is the employer's golden rule in the prevention of workplace injuries?
  22. Every Parent’s Guide to Childcare Leave in Singapore
  23. Death of an Employee in Singapore: What Should Employers Do?
Employment Contracts
  1. Are Codes of Conduct Legally Binding in Singapore?
  2. Morality Clauses in Contracts: What is Considered a Breach?
  3. Employment Bond: What is It & Can It be Enforced in Singapore?
  4. Contracts OF Service vs Contracts FOR Service in Singapore: What’s the Difference?
  5. Is Your Non-Compete Clause Enforceable in Singapore?
  6. What are Non-Solicitation Clauses? Are They Enforceable in Singapore?
  7. Must You Pay Liquidated Damages to Terminate Your Contract?
Letting Go Of Employees
  1. Retrenchment in Singapore: Employer Obligations
  2. What to Know About Resigning from Your Singapore Job
  3. When Should Singapore Employers Use a Deed of Release?
  4. Blacklisting an Employee in Singapore: Is It Legal?
  5. What Happens at the Termination of Employment in Singapore?
  6. Retrenched in Singapore? Know Your Employee Rights
Employment Disputes
  1. Handling Employee Misconduct at the Workplace in Singapore
  2. Working Remotely in Singapore for an Overseas Company: Legal Issues to Note
  3. Victim of Workplace Abuse in Singapore: What to Do
  4. 6 Common Employment Disputes & What You Can Do
  5. Help! My Job Offer Got Rescinded, What Can I Do?
  6. Can My Employer Cut My Pay if I Choose to Work From Home?
  7. Where to Get Help for an Employment Dispute in Singapore
  8. Guide to Choosing a Good Employment Lawyer in Singapore
  9. Unfair Dismissal From Your Singapore Job: What to Do
  10. All You Need to Know About the Employment Claims Tribunals
  11. How to Claim Compensation for an Occupational Disease in Singapore
  12. Discriminatory Hiring: Penalties Against Employers in Singapore