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The two types of discrimination specific to disability

When it comes to job interviews and the recruitment process, an employer must take particular care regarding job applicants' health and any disability.

This is to prevent employers discriminating against individuals with health conditions. Job offers should be made on the basis of merit.

As a result, there are laws on what and when an employer can ask about an applicant's health.

However, an employer should ask applicants if they need any 'reasonable adjustments', sometimes also called 'access requirements', for any part of the recruitment process. But an employer should take care not to confuse this as being the same as asking a candidate whether he or she is disabled.

And if an applicant volunteers information about a disability or health condition, interviewers should take particular care not to follow this up with further questions about it or let it influence their recruitment decisions, apart from in very limited and set circumstances.

Asking about health matters in interviews

So what can employers ask about health matters before making a job offer?

There are only four circumstances under the Equality Act in which it is allowed, and they apply to interviews, questionnaires and all other selection methods. They are:

  1. To find out if an applicant can carry out a function that's essential to the role. This could also be to help employers work out if an applicant could do the function with reasonable adjustments made for them.
  2. To take 'positive action' to assist applicants with disabilities. Employers may take steps to remove barriers or disadvantages and give support and encouragement to employees and job applicants with disabilities. But they'll have to show that other groups aren't discriminated against as a result.
  3. For monitoring purposes so that employers know the diversity of candidates. This is usually done without revealing an applicant's identity and not as part of selection decisions.
  4. To check a candidate has a specific disability where having such is a genuine requirement of the job. Such 'occupational requirements' are governed by their own rules under the Equality Act, and cannot just be down to an employer's preferences.

Offering a job

Having offered a job, an employer may ask appropriate health-related questions, but must still be careful not to be discriminatory.

The same goes for any health checks an employer subsequently undertakes - for example, singling out disabled people for health checks is likely to be discriminatory.

And if an employer withdraws a conditional job offer, it is advised to keep records of the reasons in case the matter leads to a discrimination claim.

Acas publications and services

More information on this and related issues is available in the new Acas guide pdf icon Disability discrimination: key points for the workplace [601kb] and the Disability discriminationpage.

General advice on Equality and discrimination is also available online and through, Acas' new suite of equality and discrimination guides which include the information employers and employees need to honour their legal obligations.

Acas experts can visit your organisation to review existing equality and diversity procedures and help you ensure that they are legally compliant. See Equality and diversity: how Acas can help for more information.

Practical training is also available on Disability discrimination, Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, Employment law update and Recruitment.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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