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Employers should list dress code policies clearly, says TAFEP

SINGAPORE — Following allegations by a job applicant who claimed she was told she could not wear a hijab at her potential workplace, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) said that employers must communicate their dress code policies clearly.

A post widely shared on Facebook on Ms Sharifah Begum's experience when she applied for the role of administrative assistant at preschool operator, Modern Montessori International Group (MMI).

A post widely shared on Facebook on Ms Sharifah Begum's experience when she applied for the role of administrative assistant at preschool operator, Modern Montessori International Group (MMI).

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SINGAPORE — Following allegations by a job applicant who claimed she was told she could not wear a hijab at her potential workplace, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) said that employers must communicate their dress code policies clearly.

They must also exercise care and sensitivity when conveying expectations to job applicants and employees, TAFEP said yesterday in response to TODAY’s queries.

In a Facebook post that was widely circulated last week, Ms Sharifah Begum claimed that she was told that she could not wear a hijab — a Muslim headscarf covering the head and chest — when she applied for the role of administrative assistant at preschool operator, Modern Montessori International Group (MMI).

The incident revived a long-running debate on the wearing of hijab by Muslim women in the workplace.

TAFEP said “while employers may prescribe a dress code, such dress code requirements should not be differentiated by an employee’s race or religion.”

“Rather, the dress code should be suited to the nature of work, taking into account business, operational and safety considerations,” said a TAFEP spokesperson.

MMI did not respond to TODAY’s queries. However, in a post on its official Facebook page on Tuesday, MMI’s operations and administration manager Ismail Ibrahim said the dress code for all staff is to be presentable.

“For the Muslim staff, MMI allows the flexibility of donning the headscarf (bandana), covering the neck and wearing of long pants or long dresses whilst at work in the centres,” said Mr Ismail.

He added that “the final selection to employ is based on the merits of the candidates’ knowledge, skills and attitude towards working with young children.”

Speaking to TODAY, Ms Sharifah, 24, said her job interview had been going well until the hijab issue was raised.

According to Ms Sharifah, the MMI interviewer had told her to wear a bandana, instead of the hijab, to cover her hair should her job application be successful. She was told that there were other people in the preschool who were also wearing the bandana.

The interviewer, added Ms Sharifah, said “there were many incidents whereby the parents were frightened to hand over the kids to the staff, and kids got scared because of teachers and other staff wearing (the) hijab, and parents feel uncomfortable to let people like that handle their kids”.

Ms Sharifah said she would not be handling children, since her job scope as an administrative assistant only requires her to be in the back office, doing paperwork.

“(The interviewer) said that ‘If I allow you to wear your full hijab like how you are wearing now, it wouldn’t be very fair to the other teachers outside’,” she added.

TAFEP acknowledges that “workplaces are an important part of our common space” and that “many Singaporeans of different ethnic groups and religions live and work together in Singapore”, the spokesperson said.

“To preserve harmony and ensure all the groups feel fairly treated, it is important to preserve our common public space where everyone can interact comfortably with one another regardless of their cultural, religious and ethnic background,” the spokesperson added.

Several government leaders have weighed in on the hijab debate before.

In 2013, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said that wearing a Muslim headscarf at the workplace would be “very problematic” for some professions that require their staff to be in uniform.

Recently, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, in response to comments made in Parliament on the Government’s handling of issues concerning Muslims, such as wearing of the headscarf, said during a television interview: “In any social change that affects a particular community, we must be careful, because it not only impacts that community but also society’s perception of that community.”

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