Are there questions that are off the cards during an interview? Many HR managers are aware of the sensitivity of some questions but still, some could not resist crossing personal boundaries when they asked questions like “How old are you?” or “Do you plan to have children?”

You may feel it is relevant, especially when you are interviewing someone for a job that requires frequent travelling and hectic work schedules, but harmless as they are, these questions are considered illegal in Singapore as they are against the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices. These questions would constitute as discriminatory hiring practices.

In essence, employers should recruit candidates on the basis of merit and hiring decisions should not be made based on age, race, gender, religion, marital status, disabilities and family responsibilities.

A CareerBuilder survey showed that one in five employers has unknowingly asked an illegal interview question, with at least one in three employers unsure about the legality of certain interview questions.

The following questions are a definite ‘no’ during employment interviews:

  • What is your religious affiliation?              
  • Are you pregnant?
  • What is your political affiliation?
  • What is your race, colour or ethnicity?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children or plan to?
  • Are you in debt?
  • Do you socially drink or smoke?

According to Singapore employment lawyer Susan de Silva, partner at ATMD Bird & Bird, these questions fall into the “regardless” group of considerations, and are inappropriate.

“An employer also runs the risk of breaching the Personal Data Protection Act with such questions,” de Silva said.

“Singapore’s data privacy laws [require] organisations to ask only for personal data which is reasonably necessary for the purpose for which the data is being collected. These questions [above] are not evidently necessary for the purpose of evaluating a person’s ability to do the job.”

Some tips for the interview process include:

  • making a list of selection criteria to be applied consistently to all candidates,
  • developing a list of interview questions that are directly relevant to the job,
  • removing discriminatory interview questions in the application form,
  • conducting interviews with more than one interviewer, and
  • ensuring that interviewers are briefed on the principles of fair employment.

In the event that questions might be perceived as discriminatory, the reasons for soliciting the information should be made known to the interviewee to avoid misunderstanding.

Companies with discriminatory hiring practices will be subject to additional scrutiny by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and, in serious cases, may have their work pass privileges for hiring foreign employees curtailed by MOM.





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