Would you hire a special needs employee for your business?

I read with interest the stories of 4 women who struggled with their mental health condition and how difficult it was for some of them to find jobs.

Should hiring processes be less invasive?

It’s not surprising really that people with special conditions are turned down by potential employers, otherwise why do we have to declare things like chronic illnesses, disabilities and even pregnancies when we apply for a job?

Source: are employment applications asking for too many details?

Can we blame employers for looking only for the candidate with the right mix of being able-bodied, not too old, not going to start a family soon, from a branded school, willing to accept not-so-high-paying job, and with a clean slate of mental health?

Yet such “first class” candidates are getting increasingly rare, as many employers complain of a labour crunch and beg for a relaxation of the foreign manpower levies and quotas.

Source: Where are the jobs?
Other employers are more enlightened, hiring candidates for their strengths than shunning them for their weaknesses.

Source: careers for people with disabilities

But these employers, are the minority in this perfection-obsessed country, no?

It’s not only the employers who discriminate

Moreover, even though an employer may take the leap of faith to hire a person with a special need, his fellow colleagues may not be so inclusive and this may lead to discrimination and workplace bullying.

The sad thing I find about working in Singapore is that it is so difficult legislatively, culturally and emotionally to successfully get redress for being bullied, what more so for someone with special needs.

How can we resolve workplace disputes involving those with special needs?

TAFEP is a first step to reporting unfair workplace practices, but to actually sue a company for workplace or hiring discrimination, you probably need quite a bit of money to hire a lawyer, unless your unfair dismissal is due to a pregnancy which is typically settled by your ex-company paying you a sum to cover your maternity benefits.

Source: why employers should tackle workplace bullying

Problems that people with special needs face when bullied

If the bullied worker, or jilted jobseeker has a special need, firstly is he able to prove that the discrimination he faced is due to his special need, and not because of other intangibles like his personality?

Secondly, if an employer has the right to hire and fire (based on what the hirer deems as legitimate reasons such as being able-bodied), technically it is still based on the principle of meritocracy, albeit one without heart.

Thirdly, if the person with special needs is involved in a workplace dispute, how robust is the company’s grievance procedure to ensure he gets a fair hearing?

Are there success cases we can highlight?

In my encounters with hired people with special needs, their favourable circumstances are not due to any particular legislation that mandated companies to hire them, or keep them hired.

The common thread I noticed is their good fortune to have a supportive boss, HR, union and/or a system which creates an inclusive culture.

#1: A hotel with a training and support system

I once visited a hotel in the CBD which worked closely with MINDS to train their intellectally-handicapped students in the art of housekeeping.

I call it an art because you cannot suka suka stuff the bedsheets under the bed or the pillows inside the pillowcase. There really is a specific standardised method to tucking in the sheets that every housekeeper must follow.

Source: a lot of work goes into making every room beautiful

These students were patiently trained for months by their housekeeper mentors, who were in turned trained to manage people with special needs. This gives a whole new meaning to cross-training eh?

If the students faced any issues, they could turn to their mentors or to MINDS to share their concerns. The hotel HR even arranged a system for hired MINDS graduates to continue being mentored and supported by colleagues.

#2: A culture of caring colleagues

The second story I came across isn’t new actually. It’s from a video I saw somewhere a couple of years ago, but I can’t find it anymore, about a pregnant deaf government worker who had a physically-demanding job carrying heavy loads.

Source: pregnancy is horrible on the spine

I have no idea why her manager didn’t have the common sense to change her duties to a less strenuous one, or maybe he didn’t even know she was pregnant. She couldn’t pronounce words clearly so maybe there were communication issues.

Somehow her union leader got news of her pregnancy and negotiated with her department to change her job responsibilities, so she didn’t have to carry heavy stuff with a growing baby in her belly.

But just imagine, if no one spoke up for her, how far will legislation protect her?

In the same train of thought, will legislation be the turning point for more inclusive workplaces for people with special needs?

Or is it the mindsets of our fellow bosses, HR and colleagues that we must transform first to create a culture of strength-seeking, not fault-finding?

Source: employers, you’ll never know what you’ll gain till you try



Jules of Singapore writes about work, education, parenting, travel, world politics and local issues.


This social project is a collaboration between prominent bloggers and The Singapore Daily. Through this series, we hope to raise awareness for the public to come forward and support special needs children and their caregivers.

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