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Guide to Employee Background Verification in Singapore

Ensure a trustworthy hire with our guide to employee background verification in Singapore: learn about the legality, types, and importance.
A representation of employee background verification in Singapore with elements including a magnifying glass, user icon with green tick mark and flag of Singapore.

A 53-year-old HR associate director in Singapore who was in charge of her company’s payroll system has been jailed for making bogus pay claims for herself. With recent high-profile cases of workplace misconduct making headlines, the significance of employee background verification has become crucial for safe hiring in Singapore.

However, navigating the intricate landscape of background verification can be challenging due to legal and compliance requirements, operational obstacles, and various other factors. To help you with this, we have crafted an insightful guide to simplify employee background verifications in Singapore, covering its types, necessity, and legal considerations.

Are Employee Background Verifications Legal in Singapore?

Yes, employee background verifications are permissible in Singapore. However, employers must strictly adhere to the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) and the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices to protect candidate privacy and maintain organizational integrity.

The cornerstone of this process is obtaining explicit written consent from candidates before conducting any background checks. Moreover, employers must ensure that the collection of personal data is relevant to the job and handled securely as per PDPA guidelines.

To uphold fairness and prevent discrimination, organizations must also abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices. By and large, with strict adherence to these regulations, employers can mitigate risks, safeguard reputation, and foster a compliant hiring process.

Types of Employee Background Verifications in Singapore

A comprehensive employee background verification includes various aspects of a candidate’s profile. It provides a detailed look at their academic qualifications, professional conduct, criminal background, and more. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of background checks in Singapore:

Type of CheckSignificanceRelevant for Industries
Education CheckVerifies the authenticity of claimed degrees, diplomas, and certifications.All
Employment History CheckConfirms past employment details, job titles, and reasons for leaving. Provides insight into career progression and stability.All
Reference CheckProvides valuable insights into a candidate's work performance, professional conduct, and skills from previous employers or colleagues.All
Criminal Background Check (Certificate of Clearance)Identifies any criminal convictions or arrests to assess potential risks.All (especially security-sensitive roles)
Right to Work CheckConfirms a candidate's legal eligibility to work in Singapore. Mandatory for hiring foreign nationals.All (for hiring foreign worker)
Credit Record Check / Adverse Financial History CheckAssesses an individual's financial history, creditworthiness, and debt management to evaluate financial responsibility.Finance, Banking, Accounting
Social Media CheckProvide insights into a candidate's online presence and potential red flags in their social behaviour.Public Relations, Marketing, Customer Service (depending on company policy)
Global Sanctions CheckDetermines if an individual is subject to international sanctions or watchlists to assess compliance risk.Trade, Shipping, Financial Services (global operations)

In essence, for most positions, a combination of education, employment, reference, and criminal background checks is sufficient. However, depending on the industry and specific role, additional checks like credit record check, social media screening may be necessary.

Understanding the Need: Why Background Verifications Matter in Singapore?

Employee background verification is indispensable for businesses operating in Singapore. Provided that it serves as a cornerstone for building a high-performing, compliant, and trustworthy workforce. It helps businesses:

Attract top-tier talent: By ensuring candidates possess the necessary qualifications and meet job requirements, employers can attract the right talent for their company.

Navigate regulations: Singapore’s business environment prioritizes compliance. Background checks help ensure adherence to regulations, such as the Complementary Assessment Framework (COMPASS ) for foreign employees.

Build a reliable workforce: Stringent labor laws in Singapore make verifying employee reliability essential. Besides, background checks identify potential red flags and reduce the risk of hiring unreliable or dishonest employees.

Foster a harmonious workplace: Promote a cohesive work environment by ensuring all employees understand and comply with local regulations and company standard.

Strengthen business reputation: Singapore’s reputation as a global business hub relies on trust. Background checks contribute to this by building confidence among businesses and the workforce.

Gain a competitive edge: Comprehensive background checks go beyond good hiring practices. Thus, they’re a strategic step for businesses to flourish in Singapore’s competitive landscape.

In Singapore’s dynamic business landscape, employee background verification is no longer optional; it’s a strategic imperative for long-term success. Concurrently, this critical practice empowers businesses to build high-performing teams, enhance operational efficiency, and safeguard their reputation.

Legal Considerations

Hiring and compliance with a country’s labor laws go hand in hand. While some organizations have dedicated legal teams, others may struggle to keep up with the ever-changing regulatory provisions. In such cases, professional background screening providers can offer valuable support. be helpful.

However, when choosing a background screening provider, employers should ensure they follow data protection acts and privacy laws applicable in their jurisdiction. Non-compliance can lead to severe consequences, including financial penalties, legal repercussions, reputational damage, loss of customer trust, and even data breaches.

Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA)

The PDPA is the principal data protection law in Singapore, governing the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by organizations. Personal data means any piece of information that could be used to identify an individual resident. This includes real-world data such as names and physical addresses, or IPs.

Potential consequences of non-compliance: Although many provisions under the PDPA are advisory and not legally binding, the consequences of non-compliance are severe. Depending on the severity of the breach, the penalties may range from written directives to financial penalties. The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), which is the main enforcement authority of the PDPA, may impose a penalty of up to 1 million Singapore dollars or 10% of the organization’s annual turnover whichever is higher. The PDPC also has the power to accept an undertaking submitted by an organization that voluntarily commits to implement its remediation plan and resolve a data breach upon the early detection of a data breach incident.

Exemptions: There are some exemptions under the PDPA including;

  • When personal data is publicly available,
  • data is collected by credit bureaus, or
  • for investigative purposes.

However, data collection from other sources and for other purposes requires strict adherence to the provisions of PDPA.

Complementary Assessment Framework (COMPASS)

Implemented by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), COMPASS is a points-based system that gives businesses better clarity for human resource planning. It assesses the eligibility of foreign professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs) based on certain criteria. COMPASS applies to new Employment Pass (EP) applications. There are two categories of criteria under this framework. The candidates applying for EP must score at least 40 points on these criteria  to become eligible:

Foundational criteria: It includes salary, qualifications, diversity, and support for local employment.

Bonus criteria: It includes skills bonus and strategic economic priorities bonus.

The COMPASS framework signifies a significant shift in Singapore’s approach to the EP assessment. Therefore, employers hiring foreign candidates in Singapore must adapt to this approach to attract top talents to their organization and comply with workforce regulations.

Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP)

Under the TGFEP, there are provisions regarding discriminatory practices against a candidate. Consequently, MOM can take appropriate actions including:

Advisory: Issue written advisory to the employers regarding violations.

Public warning: Issue public warning to an organization in severe cases.

The actual outcome of non-compliance depends on a specific case in consideration. Nonetheless, having an understanding of the potential legal liabilities can help employers understand the significance of vigilance and due diligence. This not only makes them aware of the desired hiring practices but also allows them to have adequate safeguards in place.

The actual outcome of non-compliance depends on a specific case in consideration. Nonetheless, having an understanding of the potential legal liabilities can help employers understand the significance of vigilance and due diligence. This not only makes them aware of the desired hiring practices but also allows them to have adequate safeguards in place.

Key Takeaways

  • Cases of professional misconduct are making headlines in Singapore. In light of this, employee background verifications help mitigate risks, ensure regulatory compliance, and build a strong and reliable workforce.
  • Employee background verification is legal in Singapore. However, it requires adherence to PDPA, Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, and obtaining written consent of candidates. Non-compliance may lead to reputational damage and many legal repercussions.
  • Common types of background checks include education verification, employment verification, criminal background checks, and reference checks. Industry and job function influence the types of checks typically used.

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