Putting a stop to age-biased hiring

How TAFEP took a company to task for age discrimination


Following his retrenchment as a hotel concierge executive, 51-year-old Royston Koh was on the hunt for another job that would match his experience and skills. He applied for a guest service executive position at a hotel and was thrilled to be called up for an interview.

As he had years of experience in the hospitality industry, Mr Koh was expecting a fair shot at securing the role. However, he was taken aback by the dismissive attitude of the hotel's hiring manager.

During the interview, the hiring manager said: "We need our ground staff to be energetic and quick in reacting to the needs of our guests, who are relatively young too. The average age of our guest service executive is between 30 and 40, so I'm not sure if you can fit in well here." Eventually, Mr Koh did not get the job.

Feeling that he was being treated unfairly because of his age, Mr Koh sought advice from the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

After hearing Mr Koh's account, TAFEP contacted the hotel to find out more about the incident and the hotel's employment practices.

Digging deeper

During the assessment process, the hotel admitted that it was less inclined to hire older job seekers for frontline or customer-facing roles. As its hotel guests were mostly younger couples and fast-paced business executives, the hotel felt that older employees would not be able to keep up with the demands of the role. The hotel also had reservations on whether older employees could handle the advanced IT system for guest relations.

The reasons given by the hotel demonstrated a clear bias against older employees. While the hiring manager explained that her remarks during the interview with Mr Koh were made without malice, they still amounted to age discrimination.

The rejection of Mr Koh's job application violates a key principle of fair employment practices - hiring on the basis of merit. Having concluded its investigations, TAFEP determined that the hotel's hiring practices were discriminatory against older job seekers, and the hotel's work pass privileges were consequently curtailed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

To help the hotel understand the benefits of establishing a multi-generational workforce and correct its recruitment lapses, TAFEP counselled the hotel on how to adopt fair and progressive practices for employees of all ages. This included having at least two interviewers or a panel of interviewers of varied ages present during the job interview, to ensure a more balanced assessment of candidates.

Moving forward

The hotel acknowledged that its recruitment policies did not provide fair opportunities to job seekers of all ages, as in the case of a qualified candidate like Mr Koh. Agreeing that older workers with relevant experience should be fairly considered for available positions, the hotel invited him back for a follow-up interview. However, Mr Koh had already accepted another job offer.

Nonetheless, he was grateful that TAFEP intervened and changed the hotel's mindset towards older job candidates by reviewing the hotel's employment practices.

Over the course of TAFEP's engagement, the hotel had steadily increased its hiring of older employees. The hotel went on to modify some of its job functions to be more age-friendly, and redesign its IT training to be more accessible to employees of all ages. TAFEP also enrolled the hotel's hiring manager in the Tripartite Standard on Recruitment Practices workshop. With TAFEP's support, the hotel adopted the Tripartite Standard on Recruitment Practices and the Tripartite Standard on Age-Friendly Workplace Practices.

Disclaimer: This story is inspired by real cases managed by TAFEP.

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