Can You Make Employees Work On Public Holidays In Singapore?

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You’re planning your company’s manpower roster for the next month. You realise there’s a public holiday, but you need to get workers to work on that day. You know that you have to pay workers some kind of extra compensation to work on public holidays, but you’re not fully clear on the legal specifics. We’ve written this guide in layman’s terms to help employers better understand whether they can make employees work on public holidays, and how much they have to compensate employees for doing so.

We’ll answer the following points below, which are amongst the most common questions that employers have:

  1. Do employers have the power to get employees to work on public holidays?
  2. What are the official public holidays in Singapore?
  3. How much must you pay employees who work on public holidays?
  4. What are the various forms of compensation available for working on public holidays?
  5. How much must you pay part-timers who work on public holidays?
  6. How much overtime pay do you have to contribute for working on public holidays?
  7. Is it legal to withhold public holiday pay?
  8. How should I protect employees from injuries and illness?

Do employers have the power to get employees to work on public holidays?

Yes, you certainly can. Employers in Singapore are allowed to require employees to work on Public Holidays.

If your employee is governed by the Employment Act, then there are some conditions that you must adhere to. You can pay your worker additional wages for working on that public holiday. Or, if your worker falls in certain categories, you can grant your worker an additional day off. We’ll delve into the specifics of these later on.

Let’s first define what the public holidays are in Singapore.

What are the public holidays in Singapore?

Singapore recognises 11 public holidays each year. These are, in chronological order:

  1. New Year’s Day
  2. 1st day of Chinese New Year
  3. 2nd day of Chinese New Year
  4. Hari Raya Puasa
  5. Hari Raya Haji
  6. Good Friday
  7. Labour Day
  8. Vesak Day
  9. National Day
  10. Deepavali
  11. Christmas Day

The dates of public holidays are announced by MOM each year. Some dates of public holidays are the same every year. For instance, the Christmas holiday falls on the 25th of December each year, and National Day falls on the 9th of August each year. Other public holidays will vary their dates from year to year. For instance, Hari Raya Puasa can begin on different dates each year, and the same applies to the Chinese New Year holidays. Public holiday dates are available here.

Special note for Polling Day

In addition to these annual public holidays, other events also constitute public breaks. Polling Day (a.k.a. voting day), for both the General Elections and the Presidential Elections, is a public holiday. Voting days for by-elections, however, are not public holidays. Employers should note that they must allow adequate time-off for their employees to vote. Employers cannot unreasonably withhold employees from voting, just because they have scheduled work commitments on Polling Day. This allows the maximum turnout possible for the important process of selecting public leaders.

Compensation rates for working on public holidays

If you require your employees to work on a public holiday, then you must pay them additional wages. These additional wages must equal to the basic rate of pay + gross rate of pay. Here’s an explanation of both pay rates:

Basic pay rate: This refers to the basic pay that you pay your worker, as stipulated in the employment contract. It excludes additional payments like overtime pay, allowances, and benefits.

Gross pay rate: This refers to the basic pay, plus any allowances given under the employment contract. It does not include payment for overtime work.

Example: Eric works as a computer repairman for your company. On a public holiday, your computer servers break down, and you require Eric to repair them urgently. You call him back to work, and Eric spends a full working day attending to the repairs. Eric’s basic pay is $4,000/month. His allowances are $500/month, for travel and meals.

Pay type Monthly amount Number of work days in a month Pay rate
Basic pay

  • Includes basic salary only
  • Excludes allowances, CPF, overtime, bonuses, etc.
$4,000 20 $200/day
Gross pay

  • Includes basic salary + allowances only
  • Excludes CPF, overtime, bonuses, etc.
$4,500 20 $225/day

Eric’s basic pay rate of $200/day is already accounted for in his monthly basic salary. The additional compensation you owe Eric is his gross pay rate. You must therefore compensate Eric an additional $225, for his work on a public holiday.

Compensating employees who are not working on public holidays

For your workers who are paid a monthly salary, you don’t have to factor in additional pay if they’re not working on public holidays.

For your workers who are paid a daily salary, you must still pay them if they don’t work on a public holiday. You must pay them 1 days’ salary at their gross pay rate.

Employees who aren’t working on a public holiday must still be paid. They will draw 1 day’s salary at their gross pay rate.

Tip: You do not have to pay employees who don’t work on public holidays if the employee does not show up for work on the day and or after a public holiday, without seeking your approval (i.e. goes AWOL). This prevents employees from trying to maximise time off by disappearing around a public holiday.

Compensating employees who work on public holidays

If you work on a public holiday, the types of compensation you are entitled to depends on what day the public holiday falls on (e.g. working or non-working day), and also your role in the organisation. The following tables summarise the different ways you can compensate employees who work on public holidays:

Use this first table for the following workers:

  • Manual workers earning more than $4,500/month
  • Non-manual workers earning more than $2,600/month
Work day Compensation
Public holiday is on a working day Pay the worker 1 day’s extra salary. Use the basic rate of pay.

 

OR

 

Provide off-in-lieu

Public holiday is on a non-working day Pay the worker 1 day’s extra salary. Use the gross rate of pay.

 

OR

 

Provide off-in-lieu

Public holiday is on an employee rest day Pay the worker 1 day’s extra salary. Use the basic rate of pay.

 

The worker must also be given paid leave the next working day, right after the public holiday.

Use this second table for the following workers:

  • Manager or executive (e.g. PMET)
  • Manual workers earning $4,500/month or less
  • Non-manual workers earning $2,600/month or less
Day Compensation
Public holiday is on a working day Pay the worker 1 day’s extra salary. Use the basic rate of pay.

 

OR

 

Provide off-in-lieu

Public holiday is on a non-working day Pay the worker 1 day’s extra salary. Use the gross rate of pay.

 

OR

 

Provide off-in-lieu

Public holiday is on an employee rest day Not applicable. Managers, executives, manual workers earning

Requesting employees to work on a public holiday, that falls on a working day

Option 1: Extra pay

For workers on a monthly salary: There’s no need to pay monthly-salaried employees extra salary. Their monthly salary will already take into account compensation for any potential public holidays.

For workers on a daily salary: If the public holiday falls on a working day, then you have to pay your daily-salaried employees one extra day’s salary. This extra salary is calculated using the employee’s basic pay rate. (Basic pay rate = basic salary only. This excludes allowances, CPF, overtime pay, bonuses, etc.)

Even if the working day is a half-day, you must still pay your workers the full day’s rate.

Example: Mark is an engineer at your company. You ask him to work on a public holiday. His basic salary is $5,000/month. He works 20 days a month. This means his basic pay rate is $250/day ($5,000 divided by 20 work days).
You must pay Mark an additional $250 for his work on a public holiday.

Option 2: Off-in-lieu

Instead of paying your workers, you can provide them with a day off on another date.

Option 3: Time off

Time off is only available for the following employees:

  • Managers and executives (e.g. PMETs)
  • Manual workers earning more than $4,500/month
  • Non-manual workers earning more than $2,600/month

Here are examples of time-off:

  • If your employees work under 4 hours on a public holiday: You must give them 4 hours time-off-in-lieu
  • If your employees work over 4 hours on a public holiday: You must give them 1 day off-in-lieu

If you have manual workers earning less than $4,500/month, or non-manual workers earning less than $2,600/month, you cannot simply offer time off for work done on a public holiday. Instead, you must provide them with a rest day. A rest day is 24 hours without work. This is intended to protect lower-wage workers from overwork.

Requesting employees to work on a public holiday, which falls on a non-working day

Non-working days are days which you do not have to work. For most employees on a regular schedule, this will be Saturdays and Sundays. However, for some employees who do shift work, their days off will differ. For example, some employees may work 4 days on, 2 days off. This is common in the F&B, retail, manufacturing, or customer service sectors.
For workers on a monthly salary: There’s no need to pay monthly-salaried employees extra salary. Their monthly salary will already take into account any potential public holidays.
For workers on a daily salary: If the public holiday falls on a working day, then you have to pay your daily-salaried employees one extra day’s salary. You should use the employee’s gross pay rate. (Basic salary + allowances. This excludes bonuses, CPF, overtime, etc.)
Even if the working day is a half-day, you must still pay your workers the full day’s rate.

Option 2: Off-in-lieu

Instead of paying your workers, you can provide them with a day off on another date.

Option 3: Time off

You can provide workers with time-off-in-lieu. You can only do this for the following workers:

  • Managers and executives (e.g. PMETs)
  • Manual workers earning more than $4,500/month
  • Non-manual workers earning more than $2,600/month

Requesting employees to work on a public holiday, which falls on their rest day

Rest days are days where you don’t work, and you’re not paid because you’re not working.
Rest days only apply to manual workers earning under $4,500/month, or non-manual workers earning under $2,600/month.
You cannot make your employees work on their rest day, unless there are exceptional reasons to do so. Examples of exceptional reasons:

  • The employee is engaged in shift work, and there cannot be gaps in the shift, hence necessitating them working on their rest day
  • There is an accident or emergency situation at work, and you need the employee to help
  • The employee must perform urgent work for machinery or equipment
  • The employee must perform work that is essential to the “life of the community” (e.g. healthcare services)
  • The employee must perform work that is essential to the economy of Singapore
  • The employee must perform work to defend Singapore

Compensation for employees working on a rest day depends on whether you told your employee to work on a rest day, or whether your employee requested to work on their rest day themselves.

Employer requesting employee to work on rest day: If your employee works 50% of their regular working hours, you must pay 1 day’s extra salary. If your employee works over 50% of their regular working hours, you must pay 2 days’ extra salary.

Use their gross pay rate.

Employers must also provide one day of paid leave, consumed immediately after the employee finishes work on their rest day.

Employee themselves requesting to work on rest day: If your employee works 50% of their regular working hours, you must pay half a day’s extra salary. If your employee works over 50% of their regular working hours, you must pay 1 days’ extra salary.

Use their gross pay rate.

Employers must also provide one day of paid leave, consumed immediately after the employee finishes work on their rest day.

Public holiday pay for part-timers

Part-time employees are also entitled to public holiday pay, just like regular employees. The only difference is that part-time employees working on public holidays will have their pay pro-rated. Here’s the formula for pro-rating part-time employee pay:
(Part timer’s annual hours) / (Equivalent full timer’s annual hours) * Equivalent full timer’s daily hours

This formula looks a little complex, so let’s break it down with an example:
Sarah is a part-time employee working at a restaurant. Her basic pay is $8/hour. She works 20 hours a week. This is half of the 40 hours a week for full-timers. She joined the restaurant on 11 August. This means that there are only 2 public holidays left in the year – Deepavali, and Christmas.

  Part-timer Full-timer
No. of working hours per year 1040 hours

 

(20 hours/week x 52 weeks)

2080 hours

 

(40 hours/week x 52 weeks)

No. of days of public holidays qualified for 2

 

Only 2 remaining public holidays in the year:

–          Deepavali

–          Christmas

2

 

Only 2 remaining public holidays in the year:

–          Deepavali

–          Christmas

No. of working hours in a day for similar full-timer 8

Sarah’s boss requests for her to work on Christmas, for an 8-hour shift. Here’s the amount Sarah’s boss needs to pay her, by law:

Basic pay:

$8/hour multiplied by 8 hours worked = $64

Public holiday additional pay (pro-rated for part-timer):

(Sarah’ s annual hours) / (Equivalent full-timer’s annual hours) * Equivalent full timer’s daily hours

Using the background information above, the equation looks like this:
(1040 hours) / (2040 hours) * 8 hours = 4 hours additional pay

$8/hour multiplied by 4 hours =  $32

The total sum is therefore:

Total part timer pay for public holiday= Basic pay + Prorated public holiday pay

Total part timer pay for public holiday= $64 + $32 =$96

Final result:

Sarah’s boss must pay $96 for having her work on Christmas. If your employment contract provides travel allowances, you must also give the part-timer one day’s worth of travel allowance for working on a public holiday.

Overtime pay during public holidays

Irrespective of whether the public holiday falls on a work day, non-work day, or rest day, your employees will still qualify for overtime pay. This means that if your employees work more hours than usual, you must pay your employees overtime pay.

Example: Sam is a delivery driver working for your company. Sam’s hours, as stipulated in your employment contract with him, are 8 hours a day. It’s the year-end holiday season, and there are lots of extra orders to fulfill. You request for Sam to work on Christmas day, for 12 hours. As an employer, you are legally obligated to pay Sam for 4 hours of overtime.

Overtime limits: Take note that employees can only work 72 hours of overtime per month. You have to apply to MOM for an exemption if you need them to work over 72 hours of overtime. If you don’t have an exemption from MOM, and you’ve already hit this limit, you can’t make them put in more overtime.

Can I not pay my employees for working on public holidays?

No. It is illegal to withhold the legally mandated payments to employees if you have them work on public holidays. You can be charged with a criminal offence for doing so. Your employees can approach the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) to file a legal claim against you. The TADM will mediate the case between your employee and your company. Your worker can file a claim for up to $20,000.

Employees have a relatively long time to file such disputes. The TADM will hear cases up to 1 year from the date of the dispute. If your employee has left your employment, they have up to 6 months to file a claim against you with the TADM. If mediation doesn’t succeed in producing a solution, then the case will be referred to the Courts. Employee-employer pay disputes will be heard in the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT).

If the Courts find you guilty of unlawfully withholding payments, it is a criminal offence. You can be jailed up to 12 months, and/or fined up to $10,000.

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