Employment discrimination in Singapore is largely governed by a set of voluntary Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (the “Guidelines”), as only limited statutory protective provisions against discrimination on the grounds of age, maternity status and union activity exists. Discrimination challenges based on constitutional grounds have been rare in Singapore.

Although the Guidelines are only voluntary, employers should be aware that they are not toothless and unenforceable. This was demonstrated recently by the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) who has taken action against companies who had placed discriminatory job advertisements specifying a particular race or nationality or citizenship, on the basis that such advertisements are not aligned with the Guidelines. The companies involved were required by the MOM to make online public apologies for 30 days and are barred from hiring new foreign workers during this period, as well as for six months following the publication of their apologies.

It is difficult to say how strictly the MOM will enforce the other principles of fair employment set out in the Guidelines. However, the MOM has made it expressly clear in a press release dated 28 November 2013 that it expects all employers in Singapore to comply with the Guidelines and to put in place fair employment practices. The MOM also warned in the same press release that it would view any non-compliance with Guidelines seriously.

Given this, employers are advised to familiarise themselves with the Guidelines and to develop and implement policies and practices that are necessary to comply with the Guidelines. With respect to job advertising specifically, employers should avoid stating a preference for age, race, language, gender, marital status and religion. If a position requires a specific attribute that may be viewed as discriminatory, the reason for the requirement should be expressly stated in the advertisement.

A copy of the Guidelines may be obtained via the TAFEP’s website at the following link: www.tafep.sg