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Several stories on our website tell of workers who complain that their employers deny that their injuries were caused by workplace accidents. A recent study by Transient Workers Count Too and Healthserve found that a significant percentage of them worry about what their employers told doctors about the circumstances of the accident.
But why? Why are some employers motivated to deny that accidents happened at work?
The most immediate reason is that such a report may prompt the Workplace Health and Safety unit of the Ministry of Manpower to investigate their work practices. However, TWC2 believes that denial is often motivated by a desire to avoid costs.
This note explains the cost differentials to an employer between an injury that is not work-related and one that is.
If the accident didn’t occur at work, no claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) will be allowed. An example of such an injury would be when the employee slipped and fell into a drain, twisting an ankle, while walking home after work. In such an instance, the employer’s liability is as provided for in the Employment Act. Under this law, for workers who have served at least six months, the employer has to pay
Moreover, under the by-laws of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act,
The employer shall purchase and maintain medical insurance with coverage of at least $15,000 per 12-month period of the foreign employee’s employment . . . for the foreign employee’s in-patient care and day surgery . . .
— Paragraph 2 of Part IV of First Schedule of Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, page 22.
Such medical insurance covers treatment of illnesses or injuries whether work-related or not. So, a worker who comes down with, say dengue fever, or suffers a small laceration requiring a few stitches, will be covered under these provisions.
If the accident occurred at work (no determination of fault necessary) and the worker’s work injury claim is accepted as valid, then the provisions of the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) kick in. Paragraph 4(1) of the Third Schedule of this law states:
. . . the employee shall be entitled to full earnings for a period of 60 days if he is hospitalised and 14 days if he is not hospitalised and thereafter to a further periodical payment of an amount equal to two-thirds of his earnings during the incapacity or during a period of one year, whichever period is shorter.
The term “earnings” is defined in the same law to mean the usual monthly wages paid inclusive of basic salary, average overtime pay and the value of food and housing normally provided.
So, under WICA, if a doctor certifies a worker as too injured to work for, say, six months, the employer is obliged to pay two-thirds of his usual monthly earnings to the worker for the entire period after the initial full-pay period. It is a heavier burden on the employer, but also, as the law intends, it is more appropriate for injuries, which can be major and take a long time to heal.
If despite treatment, the patient does not fully recover, but is left with some permanent incapacity, WICA provides for compensation for future loss of earning power.
MOM requires every employer to purchase insurance to cover WICA liabilities for all manual workers (see this FAQ page on MOM’s website). This insurance should cover the compensation amounts for permanent incapacity, as well as costs for medical treatment up to $30,000 or incurred within one year of the accident date, whichever is sooner (see this MOM page).
This ‘one-year’ limit is another problem, for some bad-apple employers then try to deny/delay treatment (including by means such as disputing that the injury was work-related) until the anniversary is past, after which the worker is not entitled to treatment any more (not to mention the fact that his suffering is prolonged as a result).
TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our