It’s quite common to be asked to complete a medical questionnaire when applying for a job. Yet, it’s also also true that employers shouldn’t be asking candidates unnecessary health and disability questions. Given this does not seem to mirror people’s experiences, let’s explore the rights and wrongs of asking applicants health questions.
When I speak to disabled students about their job search, sometimes people say to me that they feel singled out because they’ve been asked to complete some kind of questionnaire. Other students have told me they feel discriminated against because they have filled in the questionnaire and then haven’t heard back from the employer.
So, to clear this up, it is not always discrimination or unlawful for a potential employer to ask for an applicant to fill out a medical questionnaire. It all comes down to when they ask these questions and how they are using the answers.
Here are some positive reasons that employers might be asking you health or disability-related questions:
· To identify which reasonable adjustments, if any, you may need during the application process / in the job itself.
· For monitoring purposes, the employer may be sending you a diversity form or disability / health questionnaire because they are looking to improve recruitment practices and, perhaps, want to recruit more diverse / disabled candidates. The information you provide as an applicant ought to be kept separate from the main application form, and the people shortlisting should not see the information or use it in any way to sway their decision on who to recruit.
What employers can’t do is:
· Not take on a disabled person just because they’re disabled. This would be disability discrimination.
· Importantly, some employers might ask health questions to find out whether or not you will be able to something that is absolutely essential to the job role. For example, the job role requires the successful candidate to be able to drive every day or needs the person to be able to use ladders and scaffolding on a daily basis.
· Employers need to be completely sure that you wouldn’t be able do the job, even with reasonable adjustments in place, before they reject your application on that basis.
Put another way, it is important that employers don’t assume your disability will impact you in a way that it actually doesn’t.
As an employee, health questions are more common and answering these can help the employers have the facts around how you are, or are not, affected by the disability and what workplace support you may need.
· You might decide you don’t feel comfortable filling out a health questionnaire during your application. A good piece of advice is to contact the Human Resources department or occupational health and discuss with them confidentially about how the form is being used by the company you are applying to.
· What you must not do is lie on the medical questionnaire, because you run the risk of this tripping you up later on.
Fitness to Practise
In certain sectors like healthcare, nursing, midwifery and teaching, Fitness to Practise is something that you might come across. For this, you may be asked to fill out a form or questionnaire. An aspect of the assessment is to make sure that your health circumstances mean that you could carry out the job safely and effectively.
· In terms of Fitness to Practise, it is usually advisable to seek advice about the best way to present your health information so you can put it across in the best possible manner. It might be that a Careers Consultant at your University could help you or perhaps your GP, lecturer, previous teacher, social worker, support worker, or someone from the Disability Service where you are studying.
· Give clear and factual information and answer the Fitness to Practise questions fully and honestly, as required.
Some more information:
Nursing & Midwifery Council explaining Fitness to Practise
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) talking about how employers can ask about health matters
Disability Rights UK: A clear guide for students, covering health questionnaires and Fitness to Practise
Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster