Singapore employees who are injured at work have a choice between filing a civil lawsuit or claiming compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) 2019. The Act provides for employees to claim compensation for injuries or diseases suffered while performing their employment duties. In most cases, claiming under the WICA regime is far simpler, quicker and less expensive.
The new WICA laws that came into effect in 2020 introduced a few changes to work injury compensation in Singapore. The amendments generally provide more protection for employees and more certainty for employers regarding work injury compensation policies. We will discuss the amendments where relevant below.
If you were injured at work or sustained a disease in your employment, you must understand your rights and know what compensation you are entitled to claim.
This article will discuss who can claim compensation under the WICA, which situations are covered, and what compensation you are entitled to claim.
Who is covered under the WICA?
All local and foreign employees (with a few exceptions) working under a service or apprenticeship contract are covered and can claim.
Employers are furthermore compelled to purchase work injury compensation insurance (also known as WICA insurance) for employees who do:
- Manual work, regardless of their salary level; and
- Non-manual work, and who earn less than $2,100 per month. Take note that this amount is going up on 1 April 2021 to $2,600 per month. (Insurance for non-manual employees who earn more than the monthly threshold is no longer compulsory).
From January 2021, all WIC policies must be from designated approved insurers and must include specific terms and conditions prescribed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Who is not covered?
- Independent contractors – this sounds obvious since there won’t be an employment contract in place. The lines between independent contractors and employees are, however, often blurred. For example, freelancers who regularly work for the employer won’t be included.
- Domestic workers.
- Uniformed government personnel – members of the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force, Civil Defence Force, Central Narcotics Bureau, and the Singapore Prison Service.
When are you covered?
Section 7 of the WICA states that where an employee suffers a personal injury resulting from an accident arising out of and in the course of the employee’s employment, the employer is liable to pay compensation under the Act.
This sounds straightforward, but unfortunately, it is not always so clear-cut. Are you covered if you are involved in a car accident on your way to the office? What happens if you are injured at a client’s premises? Are you covered if you stopped for a personal errand on your way to a meeting?
The Act deems a few scenarios explicitly as accidents happening in employment and excludes others explicitly.
Section 8 deems the following situations as arising out of the course of employment:
- The employee suffers an injury in an accident travelling between work and home in company transport. Company transport includes transportation operated by the employer, or on behalf of the employer, or by someone who operates the means of transport by arrangement with the employer. It must not be public transport.
- Injuries sustained whilst travelling during work hours for work injury compensation purposes regardless of the mode of transport.
- Injuries sustained during an overseas assignment for your local employer.
- Seafarers who suffer an injury aboard a Singapore-registered vessel, regardless of the actual location.
Injuries sustained during a fight at work, but only under certain conditions:
- The employee was the victim;
- The employee did not participate in the fight or acted only in self-defence; or
- The employee was instructed to break up the fight, safeguard someone’s life or property, or maintain law and order.
- Suffer injuries due to work.
This is an interesting scenario. For example, if you suffer a heart attack at home after receiving an incredibly stressful phone call about work-related issues, or you have a stroke related to ongoing stress at work, you are eligible to claim compensation under the WICA. Of course, the employee will have to prove that the condition is work-related.
When are you not covered?
- An employee travelling to and from work in their transport or public transport is not covered for injuries sustained if involved in an accident.
- Sustaining injuries in an accident whilst making a personal detour when travelling for work purposes during work hours, regardless of transport mode.
- Injuring yourself in the course of your employment whilst under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs, not prescribed by a doctor.
- Deliberately aggravating a work-related injury or deliberately injuring yourself.
Section 10 of the WICA provides explicit compensation for employees who become incapacitated or die due to a disease contracted out of and in the course of the employee’s employment.
The Second Schedule to the WICA lists specific occupational diseases. Examples include:
- Asbestosis as a result of exposure to asbestos fibre
- Disease caused by certain types of radiation
- Musculoskeletal disorders as a result of repetitive motion, forceful exertion, or awkward working positions or vibrations.
- Occupational asthma
Suppose the disease is not specified in the second schedule, and the disease is contracted from exposure to biological or chemical agents. The condition arises out of and in the course of the employee’s employment. In that case, the employee may still be entitled to work injury compensation.
In the current Covid-19 context, it is interesting to note that MOM has indicated that an employee who contracts COVID-19 due to direct exposure arising out of and in the course of employment might be able to claim compensation under the WICA.
What can you claim?
Under the WICA regime, it is possible to claim for:
- Lost earnings from being absent from work on working days, referred to as medical leave granted by a doctor or hospitalisation leave.
If the employee is on medical leave but not in a hospital, the employee will receive:
- The total average monthly earnings for the first 14 days.
- From day 15 onwards, up to one year, the employee will receive two-thirds of the employee’s average monthly wages.
If the employee is hospitalised, the employee will receive:
- The total average monthly earnings for the first 60 days.
- From day 61 onwards, and up to one year, the employee will receive two-thirds of the employee’s average monthly wages.
Since the amendments, employees who are placed on light duty due to work injuries can claim compensation if they earn less than their regular salary.
- For the first 14 days of light duty, the actual shortfall in wages compared to the employee’s total average monthly earnings.
- From day 15 onwards, up to one year, the difference between the wage for the light-duty period and two-thirds of the employee’s average monthly earnings.
To receive medical expenses compensation, the treatment must be carried out by a Singapore registered medical practitioner.
Examples of medical expenses include:
- Medical consultation fees
- Treatment fees
- Emergency transport
- Medicine cost
- Surgical appliances
- Artificial limbs
If prescribed by a Singapore-registered doctor or dentist, the employee can also claim for:
- Occupational therapy
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Chiropractic treatment
Medical expenses can be covered for one year from the accident’s date or to a maximum amount of $45,000. It can be claimed as a lump sum.
Lump sum compensation for incapacity or death
Suppose the employee is permanently incapacitated or dies due to a work-related injury. In that case, the employee or the employee’s family can claim a lump sum.
Compensation for permanent incapacity is a maximum of $289,000 for accidents after 1 January 2020 and $262,000 for accidents before 1 January 2020. The minimum was increased from $88,000 (before 1 January 2020) to $97,000 for accidents after 1 January 2020. The exact amount is calculated with the formulae provided in the WICA.
If the employee dies due to a work-related injury, the employee’s family or dependents may claim compensation. The maximum amount since 1 January 2020 is $225,000, and the minimum is $76,000. Before 1 January 2020, the amount ranged between $69,000 and $204,000. The exact amount is calculated by formulae provided in the WICA.
How to claim
Claiming for temporary incapacity cases is relatively easy. Report the incident to your employer. Seek medical attention and give the original medical certificate to your employer to claim medical leave wages. To safeguard yourself, you could file an incident report with MOM; your employer must file a report if you need medical leave or light duties. Your employer should pay or reimburse you for your medical expenses upon receiving your original medical bills. If your employer fails to pay or didn’t report a serious injury to MOM, you should inform MOM.
Claiming for permanent incapacity is a little more complicated. Once your employer informs MOM or the incident’s insurer, you will have to complete claims processing forms and provide the requested details to the insurer and MOM. You will need to go for a medical assessment to assess the extent of your incapacity. If you are assessed as permanently incapacitated, you, your employer and the employer’s insurer will receive a notice of assessment informing you of the compensation amount. If there are no objections, the compensation should be paid out within 21 days of receiving the notice of assessment.
Although an employee can file for compensation themselves, it is advisable to seek legal assistance in some circumstances.
Should you instead file a civil claim?
This is always difficult to answer. It depends on your circumstances. Before making a decision, you should consider the following:
- You cannot claim under WICA and file a civil claim.
- WICA is a no-fault compensation scheme. You do not have to prove any fault on the side of your employer to claim. For a successful civil claim, you must prove that your employer is at fault. If you cannot prove fault, you will not receive compensation.
- For a civil claim, you will need a lawyer to represent you, and the legal fees can be high. You can claim under the WICA without a lawyer or with minimal assistance from a lawyer.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you on whether you should claim under WICA or proceed with a civil lawsuit against your employer. It will depend on the seriousness of damages you suffered and whether you can prove negligence on your employer’s part.
For most work-related injuries, a good lawyer can provide valuable advice on proceeding with a claim for the compensation you are entitled to.