Is it considered an unfair dismissal?
Can you legally fire an employee on medical leave in Singapore?
Say you’ve got cause for firing, but the employee is on MC – do you have to hold the job till their return, or can you terminate the employment?
According to a lawyer HRD spoke to, the staff can legally be fired, “but not because they are taking sick leave as it is their entitlement”.
“Termination of employment is a very serious matter which has wide-ranging implications for an employee,” said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). “It should only be done after very careful consideration by employers and must be based on relevant and objective performance criteria.
“Employers should treat sick employees with compassion and should not terminate employment just for taking sick leave.”
However, MOM acknowledged there may be situations where an employee is assessed as being “too ill for the job”, and where excessive or repeated absence adversely impacts the company’s work.
In such situations, the employer can terminate employment after giving due notice or pay in lieu of notice, said MOM.
Despite the right to terminate, staff covered by the Employment Act who feel they’ve been unfairly dismissed can still file a case with the ministry, pending investigations.
How to avoid legal trouble for a dismissal
To be safe, the lawyer emphasised that HR should follow the conditions of the Act and employment contract to avoid any disputes caused by the timing of the termination.
On top of adhering to the notice period, HR should enact the proper disciplinary procedure to show the MOM that the termination had reasonable cause.
This may protect the company from allegations of unfair or unlawful dismissal, said the lawyer.
If there was “gross staff misconduct”, she reminded that an inquiry is legally required before you fire the staffer.
“Warning letters, notification of a disciplinary hearing can also be issued to the staff while on sick or hospitalisation leave so they can prepare for the upcoming disciplinary hearing once they return to office,” she said.
Aside from legalities, she added that exercising compassion and withholding the termination till the employee’s return will do more for the company’s culture and employer brand in the long term.
“Doing so may also prevent any allegations that companies had fired the said staff wrongfully, for example because they were away on hospitalisation leave,” she said.
This can reflect on the company culture and whether it wants to come across as fair and lenient, or ruthless and uncaring.
“Terminating a staff while they are on sick or hospitalisation leave may come across as drastic and uncompassionate,” she said.
“It may impress upon the company’s remaining staff that the company does not care about the welfare of the staff, which would affect the remaining staff’s morale.”