Equality Bill restricts use of health-related employment questionnaires

An amendment to the government’s landmark Equality Bill will restrict how employers use pre-employment questionnaires about health or disability during the recruitment process.

The Bill completed its progress through the House of Commons in December, and will now go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny, with the expectation that it will become law later this year.

A key change in the Bill has been the inclusion of an amendment designed to deter employers from asking candidates questions about their health until they have shown they meet some of the non-health criteria of a job.

The amendment was added following lobbying by disability groups, which argued employers were using such enquiries to discriminate against people who declared a disability by then not selecting them for interview or other selection stages.

An employer that asks such a question at this stage could now be found to have directly discriminated against a disabled candidate and, if an applicant is rejected as a result, the burden of proof in an employment tribunal would shift to the employer, the government has said.

However, the Bill has also outlined specific instances where employers can make health and disability-related enquiries before shortlisting, including when it is for the purposes of:

  • making reasonable adjustments to enable the disabled person to participate in the recruitment process
  • monitoring diversity in applications for jobs; and
  • supporting positive action in employment for disabled people.

OH practitioners contacted by Occupational Health on the Jiscmail online OH forum argued that, most of the time, health questionnaires were introduced further down the recruitment process anyway, normally after an offer had been made.

“I think this is far more of an issue for employers without OH or even HR departments who have inappropriate questions related to health in application forms, and wouldn’t even know what a pre-employment health questionnaire was,” said one.

“We only health screen applicants after they have been successful at interview,” added another. “Apart from anything else if all applicants were health screened we wouldn’t have time to do anything else,” she added.

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