SHRI Member Spotlight – Francis Chan

Francis is the co-founder and Executive Director of Titanium Law Chambers LLC (TLC).  He is a litigator and an employment law specialist.  As the head of the employment law team in TLC, Francis advises corporate clients of all levels ranging from MNCs to SMEs on contentious and non-contentious employment-related matters and on Singapore’s labour statutory and regulatory frameworks. He is also an adjunct professor teaching employment law in the Yong Pung How School of Law (SMU) and the SR Nathan School of Human Development (SUSS).  He is also a member of the Institutional Review Board of the Public Free Clinic Society and the author of the Singapore Labour and Employment Disputes Review published by The Law Reviews UK.

Titanium Law Chambers LLC started out as a specialist boutique firm but have now grown to a multi-practice law firm dealing in contentious and non-contentious specialist areas of law. Their firm serves a wide range of clients from MNCs, public listed companies, SMEs to the individual.

How Would You Explain Your Job to Someone Outside of HR?

Well, my answer might not be the typical one you'd expect. On one hand, I'm an employment and HR lawyer, but on the other, I'm also the HR director at my firm. So, I have a unique perspective when advising clients.

Officially, I'm an employment lawyer, but in simpler terms, I see myself as a problem solver for all things related to employment and HR. In the world of HR, problems and issues come in many shapes and sizes. For instance, imagine dealing with HR documents that are cobbled together from different employment contracts found online, each from a different country. These can lead to headaches down the line. There are also employee grievances, whistleblowing complaints, terminations, and even lawsuits from former employees. These day-to-day issues can be challenging to navigate without proper legal guidance, which I provide to our clients.

What makes my job interesting is that I don't just offer advice; I'm often on the front lines as well. Clients frequently appoint me as an independent investigator to look into employee complaints. I interview witnesses, review evidence, and then prepare an investigation report with my recommendations for the company. I also am involved in conducting retrenchment exercises or the termination of employment.

When I take on these roles, my HR professional clients breathe a sigh of relief because they know I'm handling the tough parts. Nobody enjoys conducting uncomfortable interviews or making tough decisions like terminations, but sometimes I have to do just that.

What’s Something About You or Your Job That Would Surprise Us?

As an Employment Counsel for companies, people often assume I'm always advocating for the company's interests. But that's a misconception. While I do advise clients on what's best for them, it doesn't have to come at the expense of employees or other stakeholders. In fact, I often counsel clients that what's good for their employees is ultimately good for their business.

I firmly believe that employment and HR issues should be approached not only from a legal standpoint but also from a human perspective. I emphasize this in my training sessions for HR professionals and students. One unforgettable experience exemplifies this: I was once hired to advise a company on employee layoffs. They asked if they were legally required to provide severance pay, and technically, they weren't. However, I urged them to consider the human side of the equation. Many employees had dedicated decades of their lives to the company, and abruptly letting them go without any support would have been seen as unethical to some.  After some discussion and me pointing out the potential reputational repercussions to the company, the company decided to offer a decent package, resulting in a smoother transition for the affected employees. This case reaffirmed my belief that doing right by people often aligns with what's best for a company in the long run.

What Has Been the Biggest Highlight of Your Career So Far?

While there have been several significant moments in my career, the most remarkable one was co-founding my own law firm, Titanium Law Chambers LLC, with my partner Anthony in 2021. This venture was a leap of faith, as it meant leaving my secure position at a prestigious law firm, especially during the pandemic.

Starting with just nine or ten employees, our firm initially specialized in commercial, employment, and insurance law. However, we've since evolved into a multi-practice law firm with over 20 employees and are continuing to expand. To our surprise, we were ranked on the Straits Times' list of top law firms in 2023, placing us among the top 10 percent in Singapore. This recognition, less than two years after starting, has been incredibly encouraging, motivating us to keep striving for excellence.

What's a HR Trend or Space You're Watching This Year?

There are several trends in the HR space worth monitoring this year, including remote and hybrid work arrangements and mental wellness, both of which have gained prominence due to the pandemic. However, one area that particularly piques my interest, and one I encourage HR professionals to focus on, is the growing emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), especially anti-discrimination laws.

Employment practitioners like myself have been eagerly waiting news on the new workplace fairness law to be enacted in Singapore.  Just recently, the Tripartite Committee released their final report with recommendations which have been accepted by the government.  This is a timely development, as DEI and fair employment practices have gained prominence over recent years, and now employers finally have guidance on how to start preparing for the new law which is expected to kick in come 2024.  With this new law, companies will be legally obliged to adopt progressive HR practices, such as establishing grievance handling processes and adopting an anti-discrimination culture.  HR professionals should take this opportunity to ensure that their company’s practices are minimally aligned with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices and to engage stakeholders (especially management) for buy-in.

What Advice Would You Give Someone Starting Out in HR?

First and foremost, don't hesitate to seek guidance from your employment lawyer when in doubt—just kidding! In all seriousness, HR can be an intimidating field, depending on your scope of work. Whether you're handling talent acquisition or managing various HR aspects, the legal side of things can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you navigate the legal essentials, such as the MOM and CPF websites. Start by understanding the basics needed to perform your job's core functions. As you gain experience, you can delve deeper into scenario-specific issues like conducting investigations or terminations.

Furthermore, take the time to immerse yourself in your company's culture and practices. HR processes should align with your company's unique environment and values. Remember that big changes should be implemented gradually, as resistance to abrupt changes is common and encountering resistance may be discouraging. Balancing legal compliance with a company's culture is key to successful HR management.

What's One Thing You Can Keep Talking About for Hours?

My passion for travel tops the list. I love exploring local cultures and cuisines, and I try to avoid touristy spots whenever possible. Google Translate has become my trusty companion, helping me decipher menus in foreign languages. Travel experiences and discovering new foods are topics I could talk about endlessly.

What's Your Favorite Movie/TV Show?

I'm a huge fan of food and travel, so my favorite shows revolve around culinary adventures. I enjoy watching documentaries like "Street Food Asia" and "Flavorful Origins" on Netflix, as well as various YouTube channels. These shows not only introduce me to mouthwatering dishes but also inspire me to try them myself. One notable experience was trying "Haig Road Putu Piring" after watching it featured on "Street Food Asia." It's amazing how a TV show can lead to such delightful culinary discoveries.

What's Your Go-to Lunch Around Your Workplace?

I usually skip lunch because I enjoy eating a lot and compensate by hitting the gym during that time. However, when I do dine near my workplace, I'm a big fan of local hawker food. Salads and sandwiches aren't my go-to choices. Luckily, there are fantastic hawker centers like Amoy Food Center and Maxwell Food Center nearby, where I can indulge in delicious local dishes.

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