Business owners and HR directors often have questions regarding maternity leave policies. Do all pregnant workers qualify for it? How much maternity leave must I provide? Can maternity leave be staggered to reduce work disruptions? We’ve put together this helpful guide to walk employers through the A-Z’s of maternity leave in Singapore.
We’ll address the following points on maternity leave:
- What is maternity leave?
- Which employees are entitled to maternity leave?
- How much maternity leave must employers provide?
- How much must employers pay for maternity leave?
- Can employers claim reimbursement for paid maternity leave?
- What are the rules on adoption leave?
- What are the penalties for denying maternity leave?
- What happens if there’s a dispute over maternity leave?
- How should I support employees who are expecting?
What is maternity leave?
Maternity leave is leave that mothers can apply for, to prepare for the responsibilities of childbirth. Maternity leave is a legal entitlement in Singapore. This legal entitlement is enshrined in Part IX (“Maternity Protection and Benefits and Childcare Leave for Parent) of the Employment Act. This means that, under the force of law, you must grant maternity leave to your female employees who are expecting children. You cannot legally deny this leave to them.
Maternity leave plays an important policy function in encouraging workers to start families. It helps employees balance work-life responsibilities, and helps women remain employed when having children.
Which employees are entitled to maternity leave?
In the private sector, the only employees who do not qualify for paid maternity leave are:
- Employees who’ve worked for your company for less than 3 months, before delivery date
- Domestic workers
As long as your employee doesn’t fit into any of the 3 categories, above, you must provide maternity leave for them. This means that virtually all female workers will be entitled to paid maternity leave.
If an employee has worked for less than 3 months for your company before childbirth, they will still qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.
Are PRs and foreigners entitled to maternity leave?
Yes. Employers must provide PRs and foreigners with maternity leave. All female workers regardless of nationality will qualify for this.
The only difference is that the duration of maternity leave will differ, depending on the citizenship of the child. We’ll discuss this point a few paragraphs down.
When can my employees begin maternity leave?
Your employees can start their maternity leave 4 weeks before their estimated delivery date. They may start later than 4 weeks before their expected delivery, but they cannot start earlier than this.
How much maternity leave must employers provide?
The duration of maternity leave depends on how long your employee has worked at your company before delivery, and whether the child is a Singapore citizen.
|Length of employment before childbirth||Child’s citizenship status||Duration of maternity leave||Paid/unpaid maternity leave||Can employer claim maternity leave pay from government|
|Under 3 months||Singapore citizen||12 weeks||Unpaid||No|
|Under 3 months||PR or foreigner||12 weeks||Unpaid||No|
|At least 3 months & above||Singapore citizen||16 weeks||Paid||Yes|
|At least 3 months & above||PR or foreigner||12 weeks||Paid||No|
Maternity leave must be consumed in the following manner.
|1st block of maternity leave||Starts no earlier than 4 weeks before expected delivery date||8 weeks.
Must be consumed in one continuous block only.
|2nd block of maternity leave||Ends no later than 12 months after child’s birth.||4 weeks, if total leave qualified for is 12 weeks.
8 weeks, if total leave qualified for is 16 weeks.
Can be consumed in one continuous block
Taken flexibly* through the year, with mutual agreement between employee and employer.
*Notes on flexible maternity leave:
There are limits on how much maternity leave can be used flexibly.
For mothers with 12 weeks of maternity leave, the formula is: 4 weeks x the number of working days per week. Flexible leave is capped at 24 days.
Example: Megan’s job requires her to work 5 days a week. Megan is entitled to a maximum of 20 days of flexible leave.
For mothers with 16 weeks of maternity leave, the formula is: 8 weeks x the number of working days per week. Flexible leave is capped at 48 days.
Example: Janice’s job requires her to work 4 days a week. Sarah is entitled to a maximum of 32 days of flexible leave.
These limits help to balance the need for new mothers to manage their personal responsibilities, with the employer’s need to ensure smooth work schedules.
Examples of Maternity Leave scheduling
Let’s look at some examples of how employees are able to schedule their maternity leave.
Example: Sarah has worked for 2 years at your company as a management associate. Sarah’s child is a Singapore citizen. She is therefore entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. She works a regular 5-day week. This means that Sarah is entitled to consume 40 days of maternity leave flexibly (8 weeks times 5 working days), if you agree with it.
Sarah schedules a 14-week block of maternity leave about a month before her estimated due date, to prepare for childbirth. She wants an uninterrupted break from work so she can care for her child, and to recuperate. Sarah is now left with 2 weeks of maternity leave. She decides to use these 14 days flexibly through the rest of the year.
How many weeks of maternity leave will employers have to pay for?
|Number of children||Amount of paid maternity leave employer is responsible for|
|1st and 2nd child||8 weeks of paid maternity leave|
|3rd child onwards||16 weeks of paid maternity leave|
Which days are included in maternity leave?
Maternity leave includes weekends, rest days, and public holidays. Just count every day in the calendar!
So, 12 weeks of maternity leave would mean 84 days of leave (12 times 7). 16 weeks of maternity leave would mean 112 days (16 times 7).
Can employers claim reimbursement from the government for paid maternity leave?
Yes. Under the Government Paid Maternity Leave (GPML) scheme, the government will compensate businesses for paid maternity leave.
The criteria to qualify for the GPML are:
- Employee must have worked for your company for at least 3 months, before delivery
- Employee’s child must be a Singapore Citizen
The reimbursement amount increases with the number of children your employee has.
|Number of children||Government’s reimbursement to employer||Reimbursement amount|
|1st and 2nd child||8 weeks of paid maternity leave||Up to $10,000 per 4 weeks. Maximum of $20,000 total, per child.|
|3rd child onwards||16 weeks of paid maternity leave||Up to $10,000 per 4 weeks. Maximum of $40,000 total, per child.|
The old criteria of being legally married is no longer required. Single parents can now qualify for paid maternity leave. Employers can apply to be reimbursed for maternity leave for single mothers.
Businesses must pay their employees their maternity leave first, and then file a reimbursement claim with the government.
However, if she does not give her employer at least a week of notice before going on maternity leave (and does not have a good reason for not giving such notice), she is only entitled to receive half the payment.
If your employee adopts a child, they also qualify for maternity leave entitlements. If your employee meets the qualification criteria, then you have to provide them with 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Employees can qualify for adoption leave if:
- The adopted child is below 12 months of age when the employee declares their formal intent to adopt. The meaning of formal intent is as follows:
- For child who is a Singapore citizen: Date employee files court application to adopt
- For child who is a foreigner: Date of in-principle approval for child’s Dependent Pass
- The child must be a Singapore citizen. If the child is a foreigner, at least one parent must be a Singapore citizen, and the child must acquire citizenship within 6 months of adoption.
- Employee must have worked for employer for at least 3 months, before formal intent to adopt
Adoption leave can start when the employee declares their formal intent to adopt. This means that adoption leave can begin from the following dates:
- Date of filing of the court application to adopt (for children who are Singapore citizens), or
- Date of in-principle approval for a Dependent Pass (for children who are foreigners)
Like with maternity leave for childbirth, the entire period of leave must be consumed before the child turns 1-year old.
Can employees share their maternity leave with their spouses?
Yes. Your employee can share up to 4 weeks of her maternity leave with her husband.
Can I ask my employee to work during maternity leave?
If your employee is on maternity leave in the first 4 weeks after giving birth, you are not allowed to ask them to work. The first 4 weeks after childbirth is reserved for the employee to recuperate.
Employers can request for employees to work during the remaining 8-12 weeks of their maternity leave. Working during maternity leave must be mutually agreed upon. If your employee works on any day during the remaining duration of her maternity leave, you must either:
- Offer her off-in-lieu, or
- Pay her 1 day’s extra salary (in addition to her paid maternity leave, for that day).
Maternity leave in exceptional circumstances
Giving birth to twins (or more): This is counted as a single delivery. Delivering twins does not double the maternity leave entitlement.
Premature births: Employers must provide the mother with 16 weeks of maternity leave.
Still birth: Employers must provide the mother with the full amount of maternity leave she qualifies for (i.e. either 12 or 16 weeks).
Still births are not counted when determining maternity leave benefits that scale with the number of children.
Miscarriage or abortion: No maternity leave benefits. Employees will have to use sick leave or other types of leave.
An employer’s obligations to pregnant employees
Can a business terminate an employee who is on maternity leave?
It is an offence for a business to dismiss an employee who is on maternity leave without just or sufficient cause.
Here are some reasons that qualify as just or sufficient cause:
- Misconduct: Dishonest or unruly behaviour at work. E.g. Employee engaged in theft, fraud, insurbordination, etc.
- Performance: Employee is not performing their job to required standards.
- Redundancy: The position is no longer required.
- Moonlighting: The employee is secretly working for someone else during maternity leave.
Here are some reasons that are illegal:
- Deprivation of benefits/entitlements: E.g. wanting to save on maternity leave pay by firing worker
- Discriminatory grounds: E.g. firing worker based on level of family commitments, marital status, disability, etc.
- Retaliating against employees exercising employment rights. E.g. firing worker to take revenge on them for submitting a mediation claim against you.
So even though businesses are technically allowed to dismiss employees on maternity leave, the justification that companies have for the dismissal is extremely important. If a business is thinking of saving themselves the expense of maternity leave pay by removing workers on maternity leave, that would be illegal. If a business wants to dismiss employees who are new mothers because they think that new mothers won’t be able to focus on work anymore, that would be discriminatory, and therefore illegal. This guards against workplace discrimination. Employers must have specific reasons, and be able to prove these reasons, to dismiss workers on maternity leave.
Today, many employees are aware of their maternity leave rights. Such information is readily available on government channels, like MOM’s website. If a business dismisses workers who are on maternity leave, they should expect a high probability of receiving an unfair dismissal claim lodged against them. If businesses are planning to let go of employees on maternity leave, they must make sure that it is only done for the justifiable reasons outlined above. They should also have solid evidence to prove their case in a mediation tribunal or in court.
Can businesses terminate pregnant employees?
If you terminate a pregnant employee within 6 months the employee’s estimated delivery date, or on the delivery day, without just or sufficient cause, then you must pay the worker the full amount of paid maternity leave.
If you retrench a pregnant employee within 3 months of their estimated delivery date, or the date of her confinement, then you must pay the employee the full amount of paid maternity leave.
Example: Jane works for a retail business. Jane is 8 months pregnant. Jane qualifies for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. The chain is downsizing due to financial difficulties, and Jane is retrenched. The retail business must pay Jane her 12 weeks of maternity leave salary, since she was let go within 3 months of her delivery date.
Penalties for firing pregnant employees
If a business terminates a pregnant employee without just or sufficient cause, the affected employee can file a claim with TADM. The TADM will mediate the case. If no solution is found, the case will be sent for review in the Employment Tribunal Court. Judges can impose penalties on companies who are found to deliberately fire pregnant workers.
Also, the Minister for Manpower has the power to intervene personally. The Minister for Manpower can:
- Order the employer to reinstate the terminated employee their former position, and pay for the lost income if she had not been terminated, or
- Pay the terminated employee damages as compensation for the unfair firing
Can employees sue employers for maternity-leave related disputes?
If your employees and you face a dispute related to maternity leave, they can file a mediation claim with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). For instance, pregnant workers who have been terminated while on maternity leave can file a claim if they feel you unfairly dismissed them.
If mediation talks break down, the case will be sent to the Employment Tribunal Court (ETC). A judge will hear the case and make decision on the dispute, and what resolutions (if any) are necessary.
Some examples of corrective actions that an ETC judge may make:
- Employer must pay damages to the employee, or
- Employer must reinstate employee to their previous role, and compensate the employee for lost income due to the wrongful termination
If your employee is a member of a trade union, they can also approach the union to advocate for them.
Can employees moonlight for another employer during maternity leave?
No. Employees cannot work for someone else during maternity leave. If you discover that your employee is working elsewhere when they’re on maternity leave, you are allowed to dismiss them. Any remaining maternity leave benefits will be forfeited. Employers won’t be liable for the remaining paid maternity leave.
What happens to maternity leave benefits if the employee is terminated for just or sufficient cause?
Pregnant employees, or employees on maternity leave, who are terminated justifiably will not be entitled to receive their maternity leave benefits. If they have already claimed some maternity leave pay, the remainder of their maternity leave benefits will be forfeited.
What happens to maternity leave benefits if the employee resigns?
Pregnant employees, or employees on maternity leave, who resign will not be entitled to receive any remaining maternity benefits.
Supporting your employees who are expecting
Here are some helpful tips to supporting employees who are expecting children.
- Guide expecting employees on available maternity benefits: Pregnancy is stressful enough. Add to that the stresses of having to work while preparing for birth, and expecting employees can feel overwhelmed. Make it easier on your workers by briefing them on their maternity leave entitlements. If your company has additional benefits that you provide to pregnant workers, educate them on that also. Employees might have received a pamphlet or “briefing day” when they first joined, but HR policies may not be something that everyone is familiar with.Walking through the various benefits available helps to take off lots of stress from your employees. It allows them to easily apply for the right benefits. They’ll certainly appreciate this gesture from you as their employer.
- Create support networks: If you have employees who are mothers, it’s a good idea to organise an informal support network in your company. This way, employees who’ve been through childbirth before can support other employees who may be going through it for the first time. This not only helps your employees feel supported, but can also make your team bonds stronger.
Protecting pregnant employees (and all other employees)
If your employees suffer work-related injuries/sickness, you are liable to pay for their medical expenses. You must also pay for their wages while they’re on MC. If your expecting employees suffer injuries or illness at work, you could be facing some seriously high medical bills. For instance, a pregnant employee could trip and fall at work, which might cause serious harms to herself and her baby. Make sure you get Work Injury Compensation Insurance, which pays for medical bills, and lost wages while on MC.