When it comes to your maternity leave, do you know your rights?
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
Being pregnant is an incredible experience. You’re creating a tiny human being from within and bringing new life full of incredible possibilities into the world. Unfortunately, if you have an employer who thinks pregnancy isn’t good for business or one who would prefer to get rid of you in order to get out of having to pay maternity leave, your pregnancy may also be causing much stress. Here’s what you should know about Singapore’s employment law, in order to protect yourself.
The Employment Act
First and foremost, find out if you are covered under Singapore’s ‘employment act’; the labour law that lays out the basic conditions for the majority of workers in Singapore. You are covered regardless of whether you are a citizen or foreigner, so long as you are not a manager or executive with a monthly basic salary of more than $4,500, seafarer, domestic worker, statutory board employee or civil servant.
If in doubt, call the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and they will ask you a series of questions about your salary and duties. Legally, job contracts must abide by the laws set out in the employment act, which takes precedence over contracts between employees and employers.
Part IX of the act covers maternity protection, benefits, and childcare leave and is the go-to section for pregnant mothers facing workplace discrimination. The full act is available at the ‘Singapore Statutes Online’ website.
Paid Maternity Leave
According to the MOM official website, depending on certain factors, all working mothers are entitled to either 16 or eight out of 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, so long as they have worked for their employer (or been self-employed) for at least three continuous months before the birth of the child.
Legally married with a citizen child
If you are legally married to your child’s father and your child is a Singapore citizen, you are entitled to 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave for each pregnancy. All four months will be paid by your employer, with the last two months claimable from the government under the Government-Paid Maternity Leave (GPML) scheme. Under the scheme, your employer will be reimbursed for the ninth to sixteenth week for your first two children. If you are having your third child or further, all 16 weeks of leave is claimable from the government.
In the event that your employer requests that you return to work early, and you are agreeable, most good employers will pay you the full four months of maternity leave, plus salary on top, for giving up your maternity leave. For example, if your leave was supposed to be from January until the end of April, but you choose to return in March, employers will pay you double your salary for the months of March and April since you are giving up your leave benefit. Under no circumstances can your employer force you to return to work if you do not wish to voluntarily take less maternity leave. Also, it is an offence for your employer to ask you to ask you to work, whether in the office or from home, in the first four weeks after delivery.
While you must take the first eight weeks of maternity leave in one continuous stretch, a flexible work arrangement can be made with your employer for the last two months of your leave. For example, you may agree on a three day work week, or convert your remaining maternity leave into annual leave to be taken within 12 months. For your own protection, flexible leave agreements should be made in writing, along with agreements on situations that may arise from taking the leave flexibly. Discuss how your work performance will be assessed if you have a shorter work week, whether or not you can go back to taking the maternity leave as a continuous block later and whether you can bring forward your flexible leave if you resign.
If your employer has asked you to take only two months of leave and not the full four, is not compensating you for coming back to work early, and is still claiming your salary from the government under the GPML, give MOM a call to see what you can do.
Child is not a Singapore citizen or you are not legally married
If your child is not a Singapore citizen or if you are not legally married to the child’s father, you are only entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave if you are covered under the Employment Act, with the last four weeks taken as no-pay leave. Your employer is also only legally bound to pay the first eight weeks of leave if you have fewer than two living children at the time of delivery unless your first pregnancy gave you twins, triplets or further.
You must also have given your employer at least one week’s notice
before going on maternity leave, otherwise, you are only entitled
to half the maternity leave payment, unless you have a good
enough reason for not doing so.
Maternity leave for adoption
If you are adopting a child, you do not qualify for maternity leave as a right. However, if your employer voluntarily gives you adoption leave, they can seek reimbursement from the government for up to four weeks of adoption leave capped at $10,000 (including CPF contributions), as long as you meet all the eligibility criteria as set out on the MOM website.
Besides two weeks of his own paternity leave, your legal husband and father of your Singaporean child is currently entitled to share one week of your maternity leave If you qualify for GPML. From 1 July 2017, working fathers will be able to share up to four weeks of your 16 weeks of maternity leave flexibly.
Besides your right to paid maternity leave, you are also protected against being fired (without sufficient cause) or retrenched. According to MOM’s official website, this protection kicks in from the moment that you are certified pregnant by a medical practitioner, as long as you have worked for your employer for three consecutive months. Your employer cannot give excuses like “the company is restructuring” or “your position is no longer needed”. Unless your employer can prove serious misconduct on your part, he or she will be held accountable for dismissing a pregnant employee.
“If your employer terminates your employment without sufficient cause while you are pregnant, or retrenches you during your pregnancy, they must pay the maternity benefits you would have been eligible for,” states the MOM website. Once you begin your maternity leave, it is also an offence for your employer to dismiss you while you are away.
That said, you too are bound by certain obligations as set out by MOM—you cannot use your maternity leave to offset a resignation notice; if you leave your job, your maternity benefits will cease. You also cannot work for another employer during your maternity leave. If you do so, your maternity benefits will be forfeited and you may be dismissed.
What You Can Do
If your employer has unfairly treated you, you have the power to hold him accountable. It will cost you $3 for your case to be heard at the labour court once you file a claim or appeal. Your claim can be submitted on the MOM website. If you have been dismissed, your appeal in writing to the Minister for Manpower must be submitted within two months of the birth of your child.