Is there job application discrimination in Singapore?

Fair employment practices are recognised and adhered to in Singapore – a place characterised by its meritocratic system and pretty diverse workforce. There is one occupational aspect, however, that hasn’t been accepted in the way that it should.

There have been instances in which applicants for specific jobs have been asked to declare their mental health status. In the vast majority of cases, such declarations had very little to do with the specifics of the job and the requirements for suitable candidates.

Luckily, Singaporean authorities have undertaken the right steps to end such discriminatory practices.

Time for an End to Mental Health Discrimination

In January 2020, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) updated its guidelines and is advising employers to refrain from asking applicants to declare personal information like their mental health status (unless this is a specific job-related requirement that will affect the execution of professional duties).

TAFEP has also declared that companies need to remove all mental health condition forms from job application documentation.

On January 20, President Halimah Yacob affirmed the change in the TAFEP guidelines via a social media post. As per the statement, there have long been ongoing campaigns to end the requirement for mental health condition declaration. According to Yacob, this requirement is discriminatory and needed to end.

The statement also concludes that the requirement for mental health declaration has been linked to people not seeking treatment for their conditions in the past (more on that later in the guide).

Professional Requirements: What’s Discriminatory and What Isn’t?

Awareness about one’s mental health status will make a difference in terms of doing one’s job in a very limited number of specific cases.

As per the new TAFEP guidelines, employers have to clearly and effectively communicate to applicants why a mental health status document is required as a part of the job application process.

This is an important anti-discrimination victory. As per TAFEP guidelines, companies are also not allowed to include age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, disability and family responsibilities requirements that applicants have to meet.

Many politicians and public figures in Singapore have been calling mental health professional requirements archaic. They’ve also claimed that such requirements often lead to applicants having to lie on employment forms or forge their records in an attempt to conceal such vastly personal information.

Multinational and international companies have long ago abandoned such requirements for the sake of employment fairness. It is time for their Singaporean counterparts to also embrace the change and start creating a culture of tolerance and a focus on mental wellbeing.

What an Employer Can and Cannot Ask

All employment questions have to be related to the specific position and the skills that the applicant has to perform their professional duties.

Thus, it is acceptable to ask an applicant about their education or the additional qualification courses they have undergone in order to enhance their skills. Companies can also inquire about past work experience and projects completed in a similar field.

Personal questions and questions about one’s mental health, however, have no place in the job application, TAFEP has concluded.

There’s more information about the acceptable and unacceptable questions on the TAFEP official website.

The Mental Health Landscape in Singapore

A mental health problem does not reduce the abilities of a job applicant or make a person less capable of becoming a valuable member of a team.

In addition, mental health problems are pretty nuanced and they also happen to be widespread in today’s day and age.

The latest Singapore mental health study was carried out in 2018 and it suggests that one in seven people has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime! The study involved face-to-face interviews with 6,126 Singaporeans who were randomly selected out of a pool of 15,900 people.

There is a noted change in the prevalence of mental health conditions. These have gone up from affecting 12 per cent of the Singaporean population in 2010 to 13.9 per cent in 2016. Almost all conditions showed an increase in incidence, as well.

Major depressive disorders (also called clinical depression) rank as the most prevalent mental health issue in Singapore, affecting 6.3 per cent of the population. The other most prominent mental health problems include bipolar disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

The good news is that the amount of time people need to seek help for their condition has gone down significantly since 2010. While in 2010 people suffering from depression waited four years before seeking a psychologist or a psychiatrist in Singapore, now the waiting time has gone down to just one year. The wait for people suffering from bipolar disorder has gone down from nine to four years.

Anti-discriminatory steps like those introduced by TAFEP will potentially contribute to an even higher reduction in the waiting periods. As awareness increases and mental health diseases become de-stigmatised, people will be more eager to seek professional assistance and get the problem under control.

If you believe that you’re overpowered by a mental health problem or you see a loved one struggle, do not hesitate to seek assistance. Facilities like Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic have the professionals and the resources to offer a comprehensive, sustainable, long-term solution.

Please check out our depression treatment approach and other mental health services or get in touch with us to schedule an appointment. We welcome patients every day from Monday to Saturday and we can also meet you on a Sunday after an appointment has been set.