Focus of the Month: Singapore


Ever wondered what it is like to perform a background search in Singapore?

Background screening is perceived as entirely different in different countries. As an employer, you must gather complete knowledge of the norms and regulations before initiating background screening for an individual or an organization. No matter where you are in the world, a background check is an important step to ensure you are hiring good people, mitigating unnecessary risks for your organization, and creating a supportive and positive environment for your employees and customers. With the rapid growth of markets and the rise in the number of companies, the need for background verification is on the rise. It is necessary to work with legal experts who have ample experience in various markets to help construct a program that is compliant and compatible with the organization’s requirements.

Employers in Singapore generally carry out background checks for all job applicants. As background checks involve collecting, using, and disclosing personal data relating to applicants, employers must ensure that they comply with the data protection obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (“PDPA”). Further, employers should consider the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (“TGFEP”) and avoid asking for information that is irrelevant to assessing an applicant’s suitability for a job as this may involve a discriminatory practice.

Conducting education verification, employment references, or checks through publicly available records is standard practice. Let’s take a deep dive into the types of checks having certain restrictions in the country.

Criminal Records:

Due to Stringent Privacy Laws, a criminal check cannot be performed in Singapore. The standard practice for employers is to conduct a review through media to check if a candidate’s name was involved in content that is adverse in nature.

Another option is to request the candidate to apply for a Certificate of Clearance (COC) issued by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Singapore Police Force (SPF).  Both permanent and Non-Singapore residents can apply for a COC through the SPF e-Services website.

Permanent residents log in to the SPF e-Services website using their Sing pass and apply for COC. Upon receiving the notification that their application has been accepted, they have to proceed to the Consulate-General for taking fingerprint impressions. The fingerprint impressions need to be submitted to SPF COC Office together with a copy of the eCOC Acknowledgement Slip, generated at the end of the online application. Once the impressions and eCOC acknowledgment slip are received by SPF, they mail the Certificate of Clearance to the Applicant.

Non-Singapore citizens have to be eligible to apply for a COC. As per the criteria, applicants must have resided in Singapore for a minimum period of 6 months, under a valid pass issued by the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) or the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Applicants need to be above the age of 16 and have documentary proof stating that the foreign government authority or institution requires a COC for overseas purposes. The appellants can log in via Foreign Identification Number (FIN) and Passport Number. Upon getting notified that the appeal has been accepted, similar steps will be followed for permanent residents.

Upon receiving a certificate, the candidate can share it with the employer for required purposes.

Sex Offenders Check:

Sex offenders’ records are not available for an employer/third party. These records are considered sensitive information, and accessing these can be against Singapore’s personal data protection regulations.

Motor Vehicle Records Check:

Third parties/employers cannot check the driver’s history. Only the individuals themselves can view these details using the services of the Singapore Police Force.

Credit Checks:

Employers may obtain credit reports on employees. There isn’t any law laid down which restricts employers from conducting credit checks in Singapore. However, Credit Bureau Singapore and the DP Credit Bureau are the only two authorities recognized by the Singapore Monetary Authority to provide such information to employers.

It is suggested to conduct a credit check only if the candidates’ job role involves dealing with the organization’s financial data or that of its customers.

Bankruptcy Search:

A bankruptcy check will provide you with valuable information on your financial standing. In Singapore, a person is considered bankrupt when the individual cannot repay debts that exceed the value of $15,000.

There is no restriction in the country to conduct bankruptcy or insolvency checks. This check is carried out through the Ministry of Law Insolvency Office’s E-Services.

It is suggested to conduct a bankruptcy check only if the candidates’ job role involves dealing with the organization’s financial data or that of its customers.

Drug Tests:

Employers can ask candidates to undergo drug tests if candidates’ job role requires them not to consume drugs. Typically, drug tests are carried out in the transportation sector, especially for drivers or in a job position that poses a risk to the health and safety of the candidate themselves or for others.

Apart from the above regulations or practices, it is good for employers to be in the know about laws that impact pre-employment screening in Singapore. Below are the regulations which employers need to take into consideration:

– Personal Data Protection Act 2012 – data protection

– Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (Cap 91A) – eligibility to work in Singapore

– Industrial Relations Act (Cap. 136) – the prohibition against discrimination of employee based on union membership

– Tripartite Guidelines On Fair Employment Practices – guidelines and recommendations on fair employment and non-discriminatory practices.

Background checks which result in a breach of the PDPA may render the employer liable to sanctions, including financial penalties of up to SGD 1 million. The Personal Data Protection Commission is the regulatory authority responsible for the enforcement of the PDPA. It has the power to initiate investigations on its own accord following a complaint and to impose the appropriate sanctions for any infringements of the PDPA.

Separately, individuals who suffer loss or damage directly due to a breach of the PDPA can commence private action against the employer for civil remedies.

Tripartite Guidelines On Fair Employment Practices

Applicants and employees who feel aggrieved at perceived discriminatory practices can complain to the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) and the Tripartite Alliance On Fair Employment Practices (“TAFEP”). The MOM and/or TAFEP may then contact such employers to resolve the dispute and, if necessary, improve the employer’s hiring or its overall employment practices.

Singapore as a country has been alluring to organizations globally. It continues to be an important hub for organizations that intend to establish themselves in the APAC region. As new hires are onboarded in Singapore, it is pivotal that their organizations understand the nuances of conducting background screening in the region.

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