Asking about people’s health and well-being is something which has been in the news often recently, with coverage of whether it is appropriate or not to ask staff about whether or not they have had their Covid-19 vaccination. At the pre-employment stage, employers often shy away from asking any questions about health, absence due to sickness or disability out of fear of falling foul of discrimination legislation. However, employers are allowed to ask about health, and in some cases, ask job applicants to go for a medical before their job offer is confirmed.
Reasonable Adjustments for Disability
Refusing to interview or employ members of staff who have a disability is clear discrimination, but on the other hand, asking about disability can help employers put additional measures in place for support. Most employers will ask about any adjustments which an employee may need to perform their job. There are also specific instances in which asking questions about health is justified. For example, asking someone being employed in a role which requires heavy lifting whether they have an illness which might affect that, or whether someone wanting work as a roofer has a health problem which could stop them climbing ladders or working at height.
The Equality Act, passed in 2010, made it illegal for employers to have a blanket policy of carrying out medicals on anyone who wishes to work for them. As with everything in law however, there are exceptions. Employers are still allowed to send prospective employees for medicals in two situations:
- A Legal Requirement
- Job requires it
For example, someone working as a pilot, cabin crew, or air traffic controller must pass a medical in order to be certified as safe to perform their job. It is therefore entirely reasonable for an airline to require a medical before offering work to a new cabin crew member. The other exception is for work as something like a driver or courier, where insurance companies may demand that employers check their drivers’ eyesight or medical details to ensure that they are safe to be behind the wheel.
What Information Will Be Shared?
Employees are often very concerned about giving employers access to their medical records or sharing information about illnesses or medical history. Most medicals for employment purposes are carried out by external, private companies rather than by individual employers. Medical assessors will be told what job the person is being considered for and will then carry out their assessment on that basis. Results will usually be passed back to the employer on a pass/fail basis, with no details being given about why someone would not be considered for a role. This ensures that the applicant’s medical details remain private.
Employers usually don’t have rights to demand access to a worker’s medical records, at any stage of their employment. This area of employment law is a legal minefield, and employers should always consult with HR experts to make sure that any plans they have for checking or medicals are legal and fair.