Singapore - New Workplace Fairness Legislation for 2024

  • Market Insight 27 February 2024 27 February 2024
  • Asia Pacific

  • Regulatory & Investigations - People Challenges

Implementing fair employment practices will soon become more important than ever for employers in Singapore, with the upcoming Workplace Fairness Legislation (“WFL”) that is slated to be passed in the second half of 2024. The WFL will complement existing employment guidelines and cover all stages of employment from hiring to termination. It further requires employers to put in place proper grievance handling processes to handle issues faced by its employees and prospective employees. This may also entail the appropriate investigations in certain cases.

The WFL will only apply to employees/prospective employees and does not provide protection for self-employed persons. It will also provide for certain exemptions. Amongst others, small firms with fewer than 25 workers will be exempted from the requirements of the WFL, with the position to be reviewed in five years. Religious organisations will be allowed the discretion to make recruitment and employment decisions based on religion and appropriate religious requirements. 

The key features of the WFL are as follows:

i.    Workplace discrimination in respect of protected characteristics is prohibited. These are (i) nationality, (ii) age, (iii) sex, marital status, pregnancy status, caregiving responsibilities, (iv) race, religion, language, and (v) disability, mental health conditions.

ii.    Only direct discrimination, which is defined as “making an adverse employment decision because of any protected characteristic”, will be covered by the WFL. 

iii.    Discrimination based on the protected characteristics will be prohibited for all stages of employment, including pre-employment (e.g. recruitment), in-employment (e.g. performance appraisal), and end-employment (e.g. dismissal). 

iv.    Job advertisements should be focused on job requirements and employers will be prohibited from using phrases that state a preference based on any protected characteristic.

v.    Employers who submit Employment Pass and S Pass applications will, unless exempted, be required by the WFL to first advertise the job vacancy on MyCareersFuture and consider all applicants fairly. 

vi.    Employers will be prohibited from retaliating against individuals who report workplace discrimination and harassment. The WFL will define retaliatory actions that would constitute a breach of the WFL, which are expected to include:

         a.    Wrongful dismissal; 

         b.    Unreasonable denial of re-employment; 

         c.    Unauthorised salary deduction;

         d.    Deprivation of contractual benefits; 

         e.    Harassment; and

         f.    Any other act done to victimise the individual who made the report.

vii.    Employers will be required to put in place proper grievance handling processes.

viii.    Claims of workplace discrimination in respect of protected characteristics will first undergo compulsory mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, with adjudication at the Employment Claims Tribunal serving as a last resort.

In terms of enforcement, measures will be calibrated according to the severity of the breach. 

i.    Low severity: These are expected to be punishable by corrective orders issued by the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”). Such corrective orders may take the form of requiring firms to review their hiring processes, and individuals to attend corrective workshops. 

ii.    Moderate severity: These are expected to be punishable by administrative penalties imposed by the MOM of up to several thousand dollars, and work pass curtailment may also be applied.

iii.    High severity: These are expected to be subject to prosecution in court, where the MOM may seek the imposition of significant civil penalties against the firm/decision-maker.

In anticipation of the impending introduction of the new legislation, companies should prioritise reviewing and updating their existing policies and practices to ensure compliance with the WFL. More specifically, corporations are encouraged to focus on the key areas of development and implementation of clear grievance handling procedures, as well as the institution of fair and merit-based recruitment practices. For more information and assistance with the development/review of your policies and procedures, you are invited to contact Weiyi Tan or Jeffrey Koh


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