The good news for expectant mothers in Singapore is that the law entitles you to maternity leave or benefits. The entitlement for all working mothers is either 12 or 16 weeks of leave, depending on your employment situation and whether your child is a Singapore citizen.

Note that if your baby was born in Singapore, and at least one of its parents is also a Singapore citizen, then that child will have automatic Singapore citizenship upon birth.

It can be hard to know if you’re entitled to 12 or 16 weeks of leave, if you don’t know the law. It will help to know if you are covered by the Employment Act or one of the government-paid maternity schemes, so you can plan your leave and your finances once your child has been born.

This article explains the various options for maternity leave eligibility, the benefits themselves, and what to do in the case of any disputes.

Maternity leave eligibility

Who qualifies for paid leave under the Employment Act (EA)?

Anyone whose employment situation means they are covered by the Employment Act gets 12 weeks of maternity leave, even if your child isn’t a Singapore citizen. In order to be covered by the EA, you must have worked a minimum of 3 months for your employer.

The EA covers most workers, but the following exclusions apply:

  • Executives, managers and anyone who earns more than $4,500 per month in basic salary
  • Domestic workers
  • Civil servants or Statutory Board Employees
  • Seafarers

If, within 12 months of birth, your child becomes a Singapore citizen, then you may be able to take another 4 weeks of leave and qualify for benefits under the GPML scheme. Otherwise, you’ll only be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave.

Who pays the benefits?

Your employer will pay for your leave under the EA scheme, and cannot claim to have this reimbursed by the government. For the first 8 weeks, your employer must pay your usual monthly salary, although the last 4 weeks may count as unpaid leave, depending on the terms of your employment contract.

What happens if you are not covered by the Employment Act?

Although a mother may not qualify for benefits under the EA, she may be eligible for benefits under the government’s Child Development Co-Savings Act (CDCA) and the Government-Paid Maternity Leave (GPML) scheme. This also applies to self-employed mothers who do not have an employment contract.

Who qualifies for paid leave under a government scheme?

  • Working mothers
  • The working mother’s child, who is a Singapore citizen

In order to qualify as a working mother, you must:

  • Be employed by an employer for a minimum of 3 consecutive months before your child was born; or
  • Be self-employed for at least 3 continuous months – and have lost income – during the maternity leave period.

If these criteria are satisfied then you will be entitled to 16 weeks of government-paid maternity leave under the CDCA and GPML schemes.

Who pays for these benefits?

Your paid maternity leave benefits involve both the government and your employer. For 16 weeks, your employer will pay your usual salary. Then the employer will apply to have this reimbursed by the government under the GPML scheme. For the first and second child, the employer pays for them and then claims reimbursement for the final 8 weeks. In the case of a 3rd or subsequent child, the employer will be reimbursed by the government for all 16 weeks.

The Government-Paid Maternity Benefit scheme (GPMB)

If a mother isn’t eligible for government-paid maternity leave, she may still be entitled to benefits under the GPMB. This would include mothers who haven’t worked for their employer for 3 months, or mothers who are employed on a short-term basis.

Mothers in this situation will receive the same government portion benefit that they would have received if they had qualified for benefits under the GPML scheme, which is 8 weeks, or 16 weeks if it is their first child. Several factors are used to determine the amount: your gross rate of pay, the employer’s CPF contributions, and net trade income earned in the 12 months preceding the child’s birth.

The GPMB qualification criteria are:

  • You must have been employed for a total of 90 days in the 12 months preceding your child’s birth;
  • Your child must be a Singapore citizen.

Can maternity leave be shared with a husband?

Yes – you may choose to share up to 4 weeks of leave with your working husband, provided you are eligible for GPML. In order to qualify for shared parental leave, you must be legally married, and your child must be a citizen of Singapore.

Does maternity leave have to be taken all at once?

No – you can choose to spread it out over 12 months. The default position is that maternity leave begins 4 weeks before the expected delivery date of your child, and continues over the next 8 or 12 weeks.

But you have the option of negotiating with your employer in order to start the leave within the 4 weeks before the due date, and take the first 8 weeks continuously. The last 8 or 4 weeks may be taken flexibly over the 12 months from your child’s birth.

It is the employee’s responsibility to come to a mutual agreement with their employer. At least 1 week’s notice must be given to the employer before maternity leave is begun.

Adoption and maternity leave

A female employee is entitled to 12 weeks of adoption leave by virtue of the Child Development Co-Savings Act, as long as these criteria are met:

  • You need to have worked for your employer or have been self-employed for a minimum of 3 months before the eligible date.
  • Your child must be younger than 12 months old when adopted.
  • The adoption order must be given within 1 year from the eligible date.
  • Your child is a Singapore citizen, or if they are a foreigner, either of its adopted parents must be citizens of Singapore, and within 6 months of adoption the child also becomes a citizen.

Protections and obligations of maternity leave

Workers taking maternity leave have protection from being dismissed without reasonable cause and retrenchment.

During your period of leave, you are obliged not to work for anyone else – if you do, you may face dismissal, and have to forfeit your maternity benefits.

The employer has a duty to pay the benefits you are entitled as if you were working without the period of leave. They are not allowed to ask you to work during the first 4 weeks following the birth of the child.

Any employee who resigns or is dismissed on sufficient, lawful grounds, will forfeit their right to maternity leave benefits. The employee will be subject to the same resignation or termination clauses as any other employee not on maternity leave.

Maternity leave disputes

Dismissing an employee simply because she is pregnant is against the law in Singapore. Unfortunately, however, many women do have their employment contracts terminated when they become pregnant.

Provided you have worked for your employer for at least 3 months, and you have a pregnancy certificate from a doctor obtained before your dismissal, then you are protected against losing your job without sufficient cause during pregnancy.

In the event that you are dismissed without cause, your employer must pay your full maternity leave benefits to you.

However, employees who are pregnant can still be dismissed for things such as poor performance. Often, it is these grey areas that cause maternity benefit disputes.

Always discuss the situation with your employer if you think you have been unfairly dismissed.

If after these discussions the matter is not resolved, and you have not been paid maternity benefits, then you may file a claim with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management. Note that you may only do so if you are covered by the Employment Act, or the Child Development Co-Savings Act.

Employee remedies

If you are deemed to have been the victim of wrongful dismissal, then the Minister of Manpower can order your employer to:

  • Pay fair compensation, or
  • Reinstate you in your previous role, and pay you the amount you would have earned if you had not been made redundant.

The aim of Singapore law is to create a culture of employment where pregnant mothers are protected and supported. Speak to a lawyer who specialises in this field if you think your maternity rights have been infringed. The law is there to help you.

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