Asking job applicants to declare their mental health conditions without good reason is discriminatory, Singapore’s Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) made clear in an addition to its guidelines last month.
A Tafep spokesman told the Straits Times it changed the guidelines listed on its website last month and has engaged more than 8,000 employers through e-mail and other means to raise awareness.
Tafep guidelines already required fields on age, gender, race, religion, marital status, family responsibilities, or disability, to be removed.
The Tafep website now advises employers that “all declarations on mental health condition should also be removed from the job application forms”.
In its reply to The Straits Times, Tafep said its guidelines require all employers to recruit and select on merit.
“Employers should therefore not include self-declarations about mental health conditions in job application forms unless they can adequately explain the relevance of the information,” it said.
If the employer fails to do so, Tafep may refer the case to the Ministry of Manpower for enforcement actions on the grounds of discrimination, it added.
The addition is a significant one for advocates and persons with mental health conditions, who have called for change for some time.
Porsche Poh said her Silver Ribbon advocacy group has been discussing with the authorities since 2016 the challenges faced by persons with mental health conditions in securing jobs.
“Individuals with mental health conditions often shared that they were worried about declaring for fear of lowering their employment chances,” said Poh, who added that Silver Ribbon will help spread the news about declarations to employers and employees.
“A lot of people think that people with mental health conditions can’t contribute or are lazy. That’s untrue. Most look for work, want to give back to society and lead productive lives, but fear declaring,” she said.
Nominated member of Parliament Anthea Ong had also spoken out against such declarations in her first parliamentary speech in November 2018. She told The Straits Times that many international firms have long abolished the practice.
“This discriminatory practice is so entrenched in Singapore, especially among local employers, that dislodging this signals the first of many critical structural changes we need – to destigmatise mental health to be a truly inclusive and resilient society,” she said.
Mental health professionals also welcomed the move. Chua Hong Choon, CEO of the Institute of Mental Health, said it means people with mental health conditions will not have to face the dilemma of whether to reveal their conditions when applying for jobs.
“Persons with mental health conditions should be given equal opportunities to be considered for a job based on their skills and abilities. I hope more employers will adopt this enlightened approach and help break down mental health stigma at the workplace,” said Chua.
Like Ong, Geraldine Tan, principal psychologist and director of The Therapy Room, reckons attitudes in Singapore on persons with mental health conditions are “very traditional and closed”.
“It is sad that while we are advocating for inclusivity, employers like government agencies still have a closed mindset towards hiring people with mental health conditions, who fear being found out and ostracised at work,” she said while acknowledging the need for organisations like the police to obtain information on mental health.
In a response to a parliamentary question by Ong in March last year, who called on the public service to do away with mental health condition declarations, Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing said it does not track the number of officers recovering from mental health conditions.
According to the 2018 Singapore Mental Health Survey, one in seven people in Singapore has experienced a mental health condition at some point in his life.
THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK