askST: How to avoid mental health discrimination when hiring

Mental health issues are rising, not least with the health, financial and psychological stresses brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In October last year, several mental health clinicians and service providers told The Straits Times that more people in Singapore had been seeking help for mental health issues amid the virus outbreak.

To help those battling this silent disease, there needs to be more support and awareness of it — not just at home but in the workplace too.

Q: At a recent job interview, an employer told me that the company would not hire individuals with mental health conditions. The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices does not mention mental health conditions as an area where employers are not allowed to discriminate. Will I be protected if I face discrimination from employers due to a mental health condition?

A: Employers are expected to hire and select employees on the basis of merit. Any hiring decisions that are not merit-based may be in breach of the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

The Guidelines say that employers should not discriminate against potential employees on the basis of age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, and disability. This list is not exhaustive and highlights more common examples of discrimination. Tafep will look into all cases of workplace discrimination, even if they arise from attributes not cited as examples in the Guidelines.

If an employer lists a hiring requirement that is not merit-based or relevant to the job, the onus is on him or her to prove grounds for excluding candidates on this basis.

In your case, Tafep would find the employer discriminatory if he or she is unable to reasonably justify why individuals with mental health conditions cannot do the job. Tafep works closely with the Ministry of Manpower to take action against employers who do not abide by the Guidelines.

Q: I interviewed someone for a training manager position who seemed to be a good fit based on his skills and work experience. He declared in the job application form that he has a mental health condition, which is fully under control with medication. How do I manage this situation?

A: Before starting the hiring process, you should ensure that your job application forms only collect information directly related to the qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience required for the role.

All declarations on mental health conditions should be removed from job application forms. People with mental health conditions can contribute actively and perform well at the workplace, and you should assess this candidate based on objective criteria related to the job scope.

Examples of other fields that should not be included are age, gender, race, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, and disability; these are not exhaustive. You should clearly state reasons for collecting information that may be viewed by jobseekers as discriminatory.

If a jobseeker brings up his mental health condition during the interview or upon selection, you are encouraged to have an open and honest conversation with him to find out more about his needs and explore how existing work arrangements can meet his needs.

For instance, you can consider extending your organisation’s flexible work arrangements to the employee for occasional medical follow-ups. At the same time, you should help the jobseeker to accurately understand the demands of the job scope by making your expectations clear and coming to an understanding on what is required of him.

Avoid unconscious biases, especially in the way you hire and treat your employees. For help or guidance, read the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices or attend a clinic conducted by Tafep to review whether your employment practices are fair and progressive.

Brought to you by

Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep)
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