Q: I’m about to accept a new job offer and would rather not disclose the medical treatment I’m receiving. It does not affect my ability to do the job. Am I obliged by law to fill in my medical form accurately?
A: Section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 largely prevents employers asking candidates to complete pre-employment health questionnaires or to answer health-related interview questions at the recruitment stage. There are exceptions to this rule, for example where an employer asks whether candidates require reasonable adjustments to attend interview or whether they are eligible for the ‘guaranteed interview scheme’.
Once a candidate has received a job offer, employers can ask questions to confirm that the candidate’s health would not prevent them from doing the job. Candidates are not obliged to disclose health problems unless they are asked a direct question.
The Equality Act does not prohibit employers asking candidates to engage with occupational health assessments once a job offer has been made, nor does it prevent employers from asking for GP reports. Employers cannot obtain GP reports without candidate consent and candidates can ask to see reports before employers do. Where a candidate disagrees with a report, they can ask for it to be changed and, if not changed to their satisfaction, can stop it being sent on. If a GP report is part of the employer’s recruitment process and they do not receive it because the candidate objects, the employer can legitimately withdraw the job offer.
Candidates may be understandably hesitant in sharing health information with future employers. However, it is important to remember that, through disclosure, the applicant gains the protection of the Equality Act. The Act covers all physical or mental health problems lasting for 12 months or more and, whilst it does not cover addictions per se, it does cover secondary health conditions resulting from addiction problems.
Once an employer is aware, they must make all reasonable adjustments, such as changes to working hours or the environment. Employer knowledge can also assist the employee with otherwise difficult conversations, such as asking for a reduced workload at times or for time off for doctors’ appointments.
Conversely, if an employer directly asked questions about health and the candidate did not answer or did not answer truthfully, this could later form grounds for disciplinary action against the employee.
Where an employer is concerned that the disclosed status may affect the candidate’s ability to meet the job requirements, the employer must follow up with occupational health or the candidate’s GP. If the job offer is withdrawn after disclosure but without follow up, this may be grounds for a claim of disability discrimination.
If considering disclosing a health problem, candidates would be advised to talk to their doctor or other health professionals about the language they could use. There are also a number of organisations which will advise on this so it may be useful to contact an organisation which supports individuals with the relevant health issue and seek their advice.