Constructive Dismissal in Singapore: 5 Important Facts To Know

by 24 June 2024Knowledge & Insights

Imagine working a job you usually enjoy, but suddenly things start going downhill—not because of anything you did, but because of changes your boss starts making.

Maybe they will stop paying you on time, or the workplace will become unpleasant. This situation, where you feel forced to quit because staying is unbearable, is what we call “constructive dismissal” in Singapore.

Constructive dismissal isn’t just about feeling unhappy at work; it’s a legal concept. In Singapore, the law protects employees when their employers make their work conditions so difficult that they must resign.

1. Constructive Dismissal According To Employment Act

Constructive dismissal in Singapore is covered under the general framework of wrongful dismissal, as delineated in the Employment Act, particularly following its amendments on April 1, 2019. Section 14(2) of the Employment Act specifically allows employees to lodge a claim for wrongful dismissal if they feel they were dismissed without cause or excuse.

This provision encompasses cases of constructive dismissal, where the dismissal is not direct but results from an employer’s actions or inactions that effectively “force” the employee to resign.

The employee must demonstrate that their resignation was not voluntary but was compelled by the employer’s conduct, which significantly breached the terms of the employment agreement.

Once a claim is made, the matter can be taken to the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) following an attempt at mediation through the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). The tribunals can award remedies such as reinstatement or monetary compensation depending on the circumstances of the case.


2. Examples Of Improper Conduct Leading To Constructive Dismissal

Constructive dismissal arises when an employer’s breach of contract or improper conduct forces an employee to resign. This might include

Significant Changes To Job Roles Without Consent

When an employer unilaterally alters the fundamental terms of the employment contract, such as changing the employee’s job duties, location, or hours, without the employee’s agreement. Such changes must be substantial and may lead the employee to feel that the job they agreed to perform has been materially changed.

Non-Payment Of Salary

Failure to pay salary is a clear breach of the employment contract. When an employer withholds salary without a valid reason, it breaches contractual terms and places significant financial and emotional stress on the employee, making the working conditions untenable.

Harassment And Unfair Treatment

Bullying, sexual harassment, or discrimination based on an employee’s religion, race, or gender can be a valid cause of constructive dismissal. Such conduct can undermine the professional environment and breach the implied term of mutual trust and confidence that should exist in an employment relationship.

Creating A Hostile Work Environment

This involves actions that make the workplace intolerable for the employee. This could be through allowing a culture of fear or intimidation to persist, excessive micromanagement, or other behaviours that severely impact the employee’s ability to perform their duties comfortably and effectively.

Demotion Without Just Cause

If an employee is demoted without a valid reason or as part of disciplinary action that is not justifiably warranted, this could be seen as a breach of the employment contract. The change impacts the employee’s status, pay, and future career prospects.

Excessive Disciplinary Actions

Unreasonable or disproportionate disciplinary measures for minor infractions can create a hostile work environment. When disciplinary actions are not in line with the company’s established procedures or are excessively harsh, it may push the employee to resign.

Failure To Address Grievances

An employer’s failure to investigate or address serious complaints made by an employee about their working conditions, safety issues, or conflicts in the workplace can constitute constructive dismissal. This neglect can make employees feel unsafe or unsupported, significantly impacting their work environment.

Unjustified Reduction In Pay

Reducing an employee’s salary or benefits without consent, especially if not linked to performance or business necessity, can be a significant breach of the employment terms. This affects the employee financially and can signal a lack of respect or value, pushing them towards resignation.

Forced Involvement In Unethical Practices

Requiring an employee to engage in practices that are unethical, illegal, or contrary to their professional or personal values can lead to resignation. Employees may feel that continuing their employment would compromise their integrity or legal standing.


3. Proving Constructive Dismissal

Beyond the basic protection from wrongful dismissal, the Act ensures that workers are treated fairly regarding work conditions, pay, and resolving grievances.

If you have experienced constructive dismissal, you must be ready to provide evidence. The burden of proof is on the employee, who must demonstrate that the employer’s conduct led to a breach of contract.

Collect Evidence

Gathering robust evidence is critical in proving your claim. Some of the documents you can prepare may include:

  • Written Communications: Emails, letters, or messages that show the employer’s breach (e.g., notifications of unilateral changes to job responsibilities or pay cuts).
  • Witness Statements: Statements from colleagues who can corroborate your claims (e.g., witnessing harassment or the employer’s misconduct).
  • Records of Grievances Filed: Documentation of any complaints made to HR or senior management about the issues leading to the resignation.
  • Employment Contract and Changes: Copies of the original employment contract and any subsequent amendments or notices of changes imposed by the employer.

Document The Timeline Of Events

Maintain a detailed chronology of events leading up to the resignation. This timeline should include:

  • Dates of Any Changes or Incidents: Specific dates when changes to employment terms were made or when incidents of harassment occurred.
  • Responses from the Employer: Any responses or lack thereof from the employer regarding your grievances or complaints.
  • Resignation Date: The date of resignation, highlighting the proximity to the last incident or breach cited as the reason for leaving.

Seek Legal And Advisory Services

Before resigning, it might be beneficial to seek advice from an employment lawyer who can offer guidance on the viability of a constructive dismissal claim and the strength of the evidence gathered.


4. Mediation And Filing A Claim For Wrongful Dismissal

The Court deals with a case for constructive dismissal just as any other wrongful dismissal case. If you suspect you are experiencing constructive dismissal, here are the procedural steps you should follow to address the situation legally and effectively:

Engage In Mediation Through The TADM

Begin by filing a mediation request at Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). This is a compulsory step for most employment disputes in Singapore, including constructive dismissal claims. Mediation aims to resolve the dispute amicably without needing formal adjudication.

Prepare to present all evidence of the employer’s conduct that led to the untenable work situation. Documentation, witness statements, and any written communication can be crucial.

File A Wrongful Dismissal Claim With The Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT)

If mediation through TADM does not resolve the issue, the next step is to file a wrongful dismissal claim with the ECT. This must be done within one month from your last day of employment, although extensions can sometimes be granted under special circumstances.

The ECT will review your case in a more formal legal setting. Here, both parties will present their arguments and evidence, and the ECT will make a ruling based on the merits of the case.

Be aware of the strict timelines involved in filing claims. The one-month deadline is crucial; missing it can jeopardise your ability to seek redress. In exceptional situations where an extension is necessary, you must provide a valid reason to the ECT when applying.

While legal representation is not required at TADM or the ECT, consulting with an employment lawyer can provide valuable guidance and increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome.


5. Possible Outcomes Of Constructive Dismissal Claim

When an employee makes a constructive dismissal claim in Singapore, and the ECT upholds the claim, several outcomes are possible, such as:

  • Reinstatement: The tribunal may order that the employee be reinstated to their former position. This relatively rare outcome occurs only when both parties agree that reinstatement is feasible and desirable. It is more common in unionised environments where collective agreements provide for such remedies.
  • Monetary Compensation: More commonly, the ECT may award monetary compensation to the employee. This compensation is intended to cover lost wages and may also include additional amounts for emotional distress or damage to professional reputation, depending on the circumstances of the case.
  • Settlement Agreement: During the mediation phase at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), the parties may reach a settlement agreement before the matter escalates to the ECT. Such agreements typically involve some form of compensation and possibly terms for the employee’s departure that are more favourable than what might have been initially offered or existed.
  • Dismissal of the Claim: The claim will be dismissed if the tribunal finds that the employer’s actions do not meet the legal standard for constructive dismissal. This means the employee will not receive any remedies typically available under constructive dismissal claims.

Each case’s outcome depends heavily on the situation’s specifics, the evidence presented, and the legal arguments made by both sides. Both employers and employees should seek legal advice when dealing with such complex matters to understand better the potential outcomes and legal implications.


Conclusion About Constructive Dismissal In Singapore

Singapore’s legal framework surrounding constructive dismissal ensures robust employee protection, safeguarding their rights against unjust workplace practices and employer misconduct.

If you’re navigating the complexities of constructive dismissal, consider seeking expert advice from Tembusu Law. Our experienced attorneys specialise in employment laws and contracts, providing professional guidance to secure your rights effectively.

Schedule a consultation today!


Frequently Asked Questions About Constructive Dismissal In Singapore

Is It Advisable To Resign Immediately If I Feel Constructively Dismissed?

It is generally advisable to seek legal counsel before resigning due to potential constructive dismissal. Premature resignation without proper documentation or legal advice might weaken your claim. A legal expert can help you understand the strength of your case and guide you on the best time and method to resign to preserve your rights for a claim.

What If My Employer Offered Me A Different Role Than My Current One?

If your employer offers you a different role, it might not immediately constitute constructive dismissal unless the new role significantly diminishes your status, pay, or career prospects. Assess whether the new role aligns with the terms of your original contract and consult a lawyer to determine if the change could be seen as a breach.

What Should I Do If My Employer Reduces My Salary Without Adjusting My Job Responsibilities?

If your salary is reduced without a corresponding change in job responsibilities and your consent, this may constitute a breach of your employment contract. You should document the change and any related communications, discuss the issue with HR or your manager, and seek legal advice to evaluate whether this could support a constructive dismissal claim.

How Do I Approach Negotiations With My Employer If I Suspect Being Constructively Dismissed?

Approach negotiations cautiously and thoroughly understand your employment rights and any relevant evidence of the employer’s breaches. It’s wise to conduct these discussions with the presence or advice of a legal professional to ensure your rights are upheld and to avoid undermining your potential claim.

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