Asking questions about health or disability
Except in very restricted circumstances and for restricted purposes (such as asking the questions for monitoring purposes) an employer is not allowed to ask a job applicant about their health or about any disability until the person has been offered a job (either offered outright, or offered the job on a provisional basis). This includes asking questions about health or disability on an application forms or during the interview itself. (These questions can be asked as part of a monitoring process as long as the pre-interview answers are not made available to those responsible for making the selection decision).
The Equality and Human Rights Commission in their guidance notes on the act offer the following explanation:
‘The point of stopping employers asking question about health or disability is to make sure that all job applicants are looked at properly to see if they can do the job in question, and not ruled out just because of issues related to or arising from their health or disability, such as previous sickness absence, which may well say nothing about whether they could do the job now.’ (www.equalityhumanrights.com)
The employer is able to ask questions about health or disability once they have made a job offer. At that stage they have an opportunity to make sure that an applicant’s health or disability would not prevent them from doing the job. But before retracting the offer of the job, the employer must consider whether there are reasonable adjustments that would enable them to do the job.
In practice as Newel Brown (2011) explains, the way to ensure that the interview does not contravene the Equality Act is to ensure that the questions focus on the key competencies needed to do the job:
‘The key is to ask if the candidate can meet the demands of the role rather than to enquire about personal circumstances, and to ensure you ask the same question to all candidates.’ (Brown, 2011, p169)
In Appendix A (see top-right of page under 'Other Resources') you can test your understanding of the questions that can and cannot be asked during an interview.