Consequences of an offensive job advertisement

Employers mentioning race, religion and gender in job listings are considered discriminatory.


When I was a nine or ten, my elder sister and I saw a poster in a store window advertising for a shop assistant. The ad was written in Mandarin, which both of us read easily since we studied as a second language, despite our skin colour. (I recently wrote about this here in I’m Brown and I speak Mandarin, Get Over it [linkto:] )

It was the school holidays and my jiejie was looking for a little part-time work, so she walked in. I waited for her, imagining all the perks of having a sister working in a shop. She came out sullen.

“What happened?” I asked.

“They told me they only want to hire Chinese people.” she replied.

In all my childhood innocence I asked: “Did you tell them you speak Mandarin?” And in all her elder sister wisdom she replied without missing a beat: “I don’t want to work for racist **holes.”

Neither of us ever entered that shop again.

Now the staff and owners may well have been good people, and maybe it was just the language ability they were after but by stipulating a desired ethnicity for their staff, they were sending out the wrong message. They not only lost an amazing potential employee – effectively bilingual, bright, and a fab salesperson – they also lost two customers. Forever.

Employers should check themselves to make sure their ads are not discriminatory? Make sure they adhere to this list below, made up by The Tripartite Association for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP). Or risk sanctions by tripartite partners.

And if you find any employers like the shop my sister and I went to, report them to TAFEP here [linkto:]

If you really, really don’t know how to write a non-discriminatory job advertisement, do society a faovur and refer to this guide by TAFEP below:



Words or phrases that exclude Singaporeans or indicate preference for non-Singaporeans should not be used.

To avoid using :

  • Non-Singaporeans/[specific nationality] preferred/welcome/only
  • Singaporeans & [specific nationality] preferred/welcome/only
  • Singaporeans & SPRs only
  • EP/S Pass/WP/DP/LTSVP Holders preferred/welcome/only

If a job entails proficiency in a particular language, employers should justify the need for the requirement.

To avoid using :

  • Mandarin is an advantage
  • English/Chinese (Mandarin) speaking
  • Malay speaking
  • Tagalog speaking

Words or phrases that suggest preference for job candidates of a particular age group should not be used.

To avoid using :

  • Below 30 only
  • Young working environment
  • Age 25-30 only

Race should not be a criterion for the selection of job candidates as multi-racialism is a fundamental principle in Singapore.

To avoid using :

  • Chinese preferred
  • Prefer Malays

Religion should not be a criterion for recruitment except in cases where employees have to perform religious functions as part of the job requirement.

To avoid using :

  • Christians preferred
  • No Muslims

Words or phrases that suggest preference for job candidates of a particular gender should not be used.

To avoid using :

  • Strong guys needed
  • Preferably female
  • Female working environment
Marital Status

Generally an irrelevant criterion in employment as jobs can be performed equally well by either married or single persons.

To avoid using :

  • Preferably singles







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