Pre-employment health check ban could lead to problems

Changes to the law surrounding pre-employment health checks could encourage employers to use employee probationary periods as an excuse to remove new starters with health issues from the company, HR chiefs have warned.

An amendment to the Equality Bill would prevent employers from asking candidates questions about their health unless it specifically related to the job role.

So far, the amendment has been accepted by the House of Lords and is now set to be debated in the Commons.

But HR directors questioned by Occupational Health’s sister title Personnel Today have expressed concern that, even if it were to become law, it would do little to change the reality on the ground.

Susan Campbell, head of HR and development at utilities company Business Stream, said: “If a firm employs someone and finds out they have a disability after week three, there is nothing to say they can’t get rid of them in the probationary period. Employers will find a way of dealing with people.”

Employers could also find themselves in legal hot water if they are unable to make reasonable adjustments for candidates with health issues and therefore have to withdraw a job offer. But employment lawyers have also stressed firms will still be entitled to screen people about their health after the job offer has been made.

According to law firm Eversheds, employers that ask candidates about their health pre-job offer may be required to prove they did not discriminate if they subsequently do not employ that person.

Firms found guilty could be required to draw up an action plan and, if they still fail to comply, could potentially be fined £5,000.

Employers that ask about a candidate’s health post-offer and then discover the individual is not fit for the role can make reasonable adjustments or, if they can justify it, withdraw the offer of employment.

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