The High Court rejected an employer's defence that an injured construction worker should not benefit from a negligence claim as he had been moonlighting at the time, which is against public policy.
Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim ruled the defence "blatantly" ignored the fact that the employers themselves breached the law for hiring the worker. He did not have a valid work permit to work for them.
The judge in decision grounds last week held company director Chen Yongbiao and the company Dongwu Steel Industry liable for the injuries suffered by Mr Mohd Shohel Md Khobir Uddin while moving a metal plate at the worksite in Tuas Road. The nature of the injuries was not indicated.
Mr Shohel, a Bangladeshi national who was hired by SPG Marine under a work permit, had accompanied a dormitory room-mate named Sujan to work at the Tuas worksite on Sept 21, 2014. It was a Sunday and his day off.
Sujan told him he would be paid $60 a day.
Mr Chen picked the duo up at Joo Koon MRT station and took them to the worksite. While working, Mr Shohel fell into a hole while carrying the large metal plate with Sujan.
Mr Chen, who was not present when the accident happened, took him to West Point Hospital. He was later transferred to National University Hospital for treatment.
Judicial Commissioner Lim said if Mr Shohel were not allowed to make a claim because he did not have a valid work permit for moonlighting, then employers might believe 'they can discriminate against such employees whom they choose to hire despite knowing that it is illegal'.
Mr Shohel, represented by lawyer Subbiah Pillai, sued Mr Chen and the company for damages, claiming he suffered injuries because of their negligence.
The defendants, through lawyer Eu Hai Ming, denied the claims, alleging that both workers had entered the premises without knowledge or consent.
The judge found Mr Shohel to be an "honest and reliable witness", while she said Mr Chen was "evasive and dishonest" and provided "inconsistent evidence on key matters".
Citing two past cases, Judicial Commissioner Lim said if Mr Shohel were not allowed to make a claim because he did not have a valid work permit for moonlighting, then employers might believe "they can discriminate against such employees whom they choose to hire despite knowing that it is illegal". For instance, they could provide such workers with little or no safety equipment, she added.
The judge said to do so would "run counter to the policy of protection of these workers at the workplace and may even encourage or embolden employers in employing foreign workers illegally, knowing that the employer would be absolved from any liability to compensate a worker who suffered injuries through the fault of the employer in the course of that employment".
She said Mr Shohel's illegality "did not fall within the limited range of cases where an injury was directly incurred in the course of committing a crime".
The judge held Mr Shohel 20 per cent to blame for not keeping a sufficient lookout while walking and ordered the defendants pay 80 per cent of the damages to be assessed separately.
The defendants are appealing.