Following the concerns raised by some politicians that the repeal of section 377A of the Penal Code (which criminalises consensual homosexual acts in private between male adults) may result in employees being pressured to attend their employers' inclusion and diversity events, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and its tripartite partners the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) have added new guidelines to the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP).
These new guidelines seek to proactively preserve a harmonious workplace by:
- Requiring employers to exercise sensitivity at the workplace, with regard to activities that are not related to work.
- Assuring employees of "different backgrounds ... and beliefs" that they should not be pressured to participate in non-work related events, programmes and policies.
The expanded TGFEP will take effect in mid-February 2023. In this Alert, we provide the key takeaways for these new guidelines as well as the background to this development.
When announcing the new guidelines, MOM recognised the importance of employers' continued demonstration and communication of the importance of an inclusive and harmonious workplace. While the new guidelines do not prevent employers from developing, promoting or implementing any events, programmes and policies that are not related to work, when planning for these events, employers should:
- Be sensitive to the diverse cultures, values and beliefs of their employees.
- Not require or pressure employees to participate in events, programmes and policies that are not related to work.
- Provide employees with a safe environment to raise their concerns, including through a proper grievance handling process.
Additionally, employers should expressly communicate to employees that:
- Employees are assessed for performance, promotion and related areas based only on work-related requirements, as stipulated in the TGFEP.
- An employee's non-support or non-participation will not affect that employee's employment outcomes that are not related to work.
- Support for any cause should not lead to bullying, harassment or ostracism at the workplace in any circumstances.
Employees may report instances of noncompliance with the TGFEP to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, which will refer cases to MOM for investigation. MOM may curtail work pass privileges of noncompliant employers.
The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No 3) Bill, which expressly enables Parliament to legislate the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, was introduced in response to the repeal of section 377A of the Penal Code by the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill.
In the parliamentary debates1 over both Bills, certain political reservations were expressed, such as:
- Where "support [of] values that promote the role of the family as the basic building block of society" required "protect[ing] Singaporeans from being intimidated or harassed simply because they disagree with the lifestyle of the gay community"
- "Feedback that employees in international organisations or [multinational corporations] located within Singapore are harassed in their workplace if they do not support the gay beliefs or if they refuse to attend a pride event"
Representatives of the NTUC also expressed concern that all employees should be treated fairly based on merit and should not be discriminated against based on any non-job-related characteristics, which may include faith or identity.
The new guidelines may be seen as the result of MOM and its tripartite partners assuring employees that these concerns are met by recommending employers respect and show sensitivity to the personal beliefs and values of all employees by not promoting activities in such a way that could potentially give rise to bullying or discrimination.