Equality Bill to ban pre-employment health questionnaires

Pre-employment health questionnaires will become illegal under new proposals outlined in the Equality Bill.

Last night the House of Lords introduced a ground-breaking clause into the Bill that for the first time will see the prohibition of healthcare screening before candidates are offered a job.

Until now, employers have been able to ask job applicants whether they have a disability, are taking medication or have a medical condition.

Lord Hunt of Wirral, a Conservative peer, said last night: “Employers should not be permitted to make use of pre-employment health-related questions which are not directly relevant to the candidate’s ability, in particular for the job for which they have applied.”

Mental health charities and trusts supporting those with medical conditions hailed the move. They claim that employer discrimination and prejudice against candidates with a medical condition “is a real problem”, which prevents people from applying for jobs.

Employers should not be permitted to make use of pre-employment health-related questions which are not directly relevant to the candidate’s ability, in particular for the job for which they have applied, they said.

Paul Corry, director of public affairs at mental health charity Rethink, said: “The government’s decision to introduce the amendment should put a stop to this discriminatory employment practice, which deters so many people with mental health problems from applying for jobs. It could mark a turning point in equal opportunities. To date, job applicants with a history of mental illness have had little choice but to continue to cover up their health on application forms, just to get an interview.

“Employer discrimination is a real problem. People with mental illness can have fulfilling careers and be an asset to any organisation, yet too many employers are unable to see past their own prejudice. By addressing this issue, the government has laid the foundations for job candidates with mental health problems to be judged on their ability, not their diagnosis.”

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust (NAT), said: “We are delighted that the government has listened to NAT’s concerns and that the Equality Bill will prohibit the use of pre-employment health questionnaires, bringing the UK into line with international best practice around recruitment and disability.

“Many employers do not realise that someone living with HIV can have an active career and be an asset to their organisation – even if they are the best candidate for the job, people are turned down because employers makes incorrect assumptions about their health.”

Under the Disability Discrimination Act, employees can choose to disclose a condition or disability so that organisations can make reasonable adjustments. The new clause in the Equality Bill would mean they were no longer forced to disclose.

The Bill is currently in committee stage at the House of Lords. The amendment on healthcare checks would need to be debated in the House of Commons during the ‘consideration of amendments’ stage, before the Bill becomes law,

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