Pre-employment questions about disability
Philip worked for a large public sector employer for over 30 years, but had to take early retirement due to a disability which developed later in life. He spent a few years out of employment, but decided that he really wanted to try to get back into work.
Philip saw a job advertised by a large public sector employer and thought he was well qualified for the post. He requested an application form but when it arrived he noticed that it asked a series of questions about health and disability which were unrelated to the criteria for the post.
Philip tells his story
"The form asked you to list previous employment history and give reasons for leaving. I put ‘ill health’ as the reason for leaving my previous post, I could have put something else, but I wanted to tell the truth. It also asked about career gaps, which meant I had to put down details of my disability, why I retired and why I had not been working for a few years. I had to provide details of my medical history and periods of sickness over the last three years. The form even asked if the applicant had ever to resign, retire or been dismissed from post due to ill health. I thought, now that’s a very different question not related to the criteria for the job. All of this is giving the message that you are going to be regarded less favourably than an able-bodied applicant.
I had no objection to the questions about reasonable adjustments required for reasons related to disability in order to attend the interview or to undertake the duties of the post if successful. What I did mind was my answers being before the panel as that sort of an assessment should be made by a technical person, the sort of person with the ability to make these judgements.
I was nearly put off applying for the job. When I first read the form, I thought, well, would I be wanted? The message you get is:
Have you a sickness, have you a disability?
Are you going to be more costly, are you going to be more time consuming?
The whole implication from the form is, well we don’t want to employ you, even just with the questions about the sickness, never mind the disability.
I was shortlisted for the post and attended an interview. I wasn’t asked any questions about my disability, but the panel had a copy of my application form in front of them, with all my answers to the questions. I wasn’t successful, but I did finish second, which I felt was to a person less well qualified. Even though I had met the threshold for appointment, the panel did not appoint a reserve candidate and my letter of rejection also made me suspicious. It was dated before the date of the interview, although this was later explained as ‘a clerical error’.
I believe strongly that the process discriminated against me and I am certain that the effect of changing the law would be significant. If the questions were taken off the form they would reduce discrimination. The way those questions are, they just reinforce discrimination. I mean I didn’t put my application form in until nearly the last minute. In part that was because of the questions – I found them really degrading. I didn’t know whether I should put myself through all of that hassle just to get turned down anyway.
The whole experience upset me and made me feel like a lesser person in society – not on an equal playing field with everybody else. Changing the law would make a big difference to me and it would help disabled people live more independently."
If the law were changed in Northern Ireland, Philip would feel confident when applying for jobs and have greater protection against unlawful discrimination when seeking employment
The inclusion of health or disability questions on an application form can act as a deterrent for disabled people applying. If health or disability questions were removed from application forms this would reduce discrimination by some employers against disabled applicants.