Should you ask health related questions on job application forms?

Are you still asking health related questions on job application forms? If you are have you thought this through?

By Metis HR.

Is the reason you ask health related questions on job application forms because you want to judge if someone is going to be able to attend work regularly?

You’ve probably heard of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) but have you heard of The Equality Act 2010 (EqA)? If you haven’t you need to learn more about it and how it has superseded the DDA.

The EqA lists a number of ‘protected characteristics’. One of the ‘protected characteristics’ in the legislation is disability. Disability is defined as a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

You probably know that it’s is against the law to discriminate against someone who has a disability. You probably wouldn’t dream of directly discriminating against a candidate for a job with a disability.

If you are still asking health related questions on job application forms you probably don’t realise that you may be opening the door to claims against you for discrimination. Asking health related questions on job application forms allows you to be challenged that you are screening out disabled job applicants before

they have had the chance to have their knowledge, skills and experience to do the work assessed.

You are only permitted to ask health or disability related questions:

  1. To establish whether the job applicant can take part in an assessment to determine their suitability for the job.
  2. To determine whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made to enable a disabled person to participate in an assessment during the recruitment process
  3. To find out whether a job applicant would be able to undertake a function that is intrinsic to the job To monitor diversity among applicants
  4. To support ‘positive action’ in employment for disabled people
  5. If there is an occupational requirement for the person to be disabled
So, it’s OK to ask an applicant for a job as care assistant in a residential care home, where an intrinsic element of the job is the ability to lift and physically support residents, questions relating to enable you to determine if the applicant is capable of carrying out this aspect of the job.

It may not be OK to ask an applicant for a job as a care assistant whether they have:
  • speech, hearing or visual difficulties
  • varicose veins
  • asthma
  • depression or other mental health conditions
At Metis HR we’ve come across a number of individuals who seem to make it their business to make claims against employers for discrimination in the recruitment stage.

It seems that they particularly target organisations which have application forms available on their website, which they may download and then, at their leisure, complete the form. They will usually show they have a number of relevant qualifications (whether they hold them in reality is often a matter of doubt) but they will answer the health related questions on job application forms to show that they have a condition that is likely to be a disability.

When they don’t get an interview despite their excellent qualifications they lodge a claim for disability discrimination and you’re suddenly tied up in defending yourself because the burden of proof is now yours to show that you’ve not discriminated.

That’s a bit difficult when you have an application form on your website which is clearly asking questions that guidance from the Government Equalities Office suggests that “The general position is that it is unlawful for an employer to ask any job applicant about their health or disability unless and until the applicant has been offered a job.” What should you do if you ask health related questions on job application forms?

  1. Take the form off your website
  2. Re-draft the form to take out all health-related questions that are not directly related to the permitted areas listed above
  3. Whilst you’re at it, think about taking out any questions asking a. for dates of birth (potential age discrimination) b. for marital status (potential discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation) c. about religion/belief (potentially discriminatory) d. about race (potentially discriminatory)
  4. Only ask questions which relate to your ability to assess a candidate’s suitability to perform the tasks involved in the job that you are seeking to fill.
Once the candidate has been offered the job, that’s the point where you may legitimately start to ask more searching questions about their health and disability but you still need to be objective in the questions that you ask.