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Article | Global News Briefs

Singapore: Developing workplace anti-discrimination legislation

April 14, 2023

Singapore proposes new rules to enhance fair employment practices and the introduction of workplace fairness legislation.
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Employer Action Code: Monitor

The Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness has released its interim report, with specific recommendations for enhancements to the existing Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) and for the adoption (for the first time) of formal Workplace Fairness Legislation (WFL). The Committee is expected to release its final report later in 2023, after receiving public comments, and the WFL is expected to be considered by parliament and enacted in 2024.

Key details

The Tripartite Committee’s 20 recommendations for the TGFEP and WFL include:

  • Establishing that workplace discrimination on the basis of “protected characteristics” (i.e. age, nationality, sex, marital status, pregnancy status, caregiving responsibilities, race, religion, language, disability, and mental health conditions) be prohibited at all stages of employment, including recruitment, appraisal, promotion, and termination. Sexual orientation is not among the protected characteristics specified in the recommendations. Consideration of a protected characteristic in employment decisions would be allowable only for genuine and reasonable job requirements or in cases of positive discrimination, such as hiring decisions that favor persons with disabilities and older workers (aged 55 and above).
  • Extending the above protections to employees of third parties, such as external service providers, and prohibiting retaliation against persons reporting workplace discrimination or harassment.
  • Applying the WFL to all companies with 25 or more employees. Smaller employers would initially be exempt, but that exemption would be re-examined five years after the law comes into force.
  • Requiring that employers establish procedures for handling worker grievances internally. Externally, employee complaints would be subject to mandatory arbitration with the existing Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) first, and then, as a last resort in the absence of an agreed resolution, to adjudication with the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT).
  • Encouraging non-monetary dispute remedies, such as reinstatement, but also allowing for monetary compensation for successful claims of discrimination relating to the employment period, as well as to recruitment and dismissal. Concurrent investigations by the State of serious breaches of workplace fairness and potential enforcement actions could also occur. Conversely, the ECT would be empowered to strike down frivolous or vexatious claims and award costs against claimants.
  • Providing for a range of financial and non-financial penalties, depending on the severity of the breach, on employers and persons found to have engaged in discriminatory practices.

Employer implications

The enactment of legally binding legislation would strengthen enforcement powers against employers in cases of prohibited discrimination – including financial penalties. Currently, companies violating the TGFEP may face temporary suspension of work pass privileges. Draft legislation is expected to address certain additional matters not covered in the report (such as what employers would be required to do to prevent discrimination). In the meantime, employers should begin reviewing their internal policies to evaluate their alignment with the report’s recommendations.

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