FRIDAY HR FAQS – Can an employer ask about my mental health when applying for a new job?

Date: Friday, 12th October, 2018

Thanks to awareness days like Wednesday’s World Mental Health Day, the conversation surrounding mental health is getting louder. The stigma attached to talking about our mental health in the same way that we do for our physical health is being lifted and with that there is a growing acceptance that it’s okay not to be okay and to seek support.

The workplace is undeniably an environment that for many people can cause stress and anxiety. If you have a mental health issue then being in a pressured working environment, that may not be supportive of your mental health, can cause further damage to your health and overall well-being.

It’s therefore the role of employers to ensure they have fair practices in place with regards to their approach for identifying and supporting their teams with mental health issues, just as they do for physical health.

As an employee you should expect to be supported by your employer and provided with the necessary support for a mental health issue.

However, is it a concern for those seeking new employment that if they have an existing mental health issue, it may impact upon their likelihood of getting a job?

We want to help debunk some of these crucial questions and shed light on an area of HR that is vital for a happy and productive workplace.

1. Can I be asked about my mental health issue when I apply for a job? 

In short, no. It’s unlawful for an employer to ask a candidate if they have a history mental health issues during the application process.

If you are asked about your mental health, you are not obliged to answer this, however, if you do choose to disclose this information it is recommended that you do so honestly.

Asking candidates health questions before a job offer is made is unlawful and can be reported to the Equality Advice and Support Service.

If you are asked about your mental health during the application process and then don’t receive an offer, you may want to challenge this as it can be classed as discrimination on the grounds of disability.

2. Are there situations when an employer can ask about my mental health before making a job offer?

There are a few situations when an employer may need to ask about your health before a job offer is made, these can include:

  • To find out if you can take an assessment for a job.
  • To find out if you need reasonable adjustments to the application process.
  • To find out whether you will be able to do the requirements of the job, whilst they also consider any reasonable adjustments that may need to be made.
  • To find out if applications are coming from a diverse group of people.
  • To establish if you have the particular disability required for the job.
  • To assess you for national security purposes.

For example, a lawful question about your health and whether this affects your ability to do the job would be; if you were applying for a job erecting scaffolding and the employer asked questions at the application stage regarding disability, health and whether the applicant has a fear of heights.

3. What questions can I be asked about my mental health once I’ve been offered a job?

Once you receive a job offer then your new employer is lawfully able to ask you questions about your health.

If your new employer asks questions about your mental health and subsequently becomes concerned due to a mental health issue you may not be able to carry out your job, then it is the employer’s responsibility to seek further advice from your doctor or occupational health.

Should your new employer ask a question about your mental health and then withdraw the job offer without first consulting advice or conducting a further assessment or investigation, then this may be seen direct discrimination and therefore unlawful.

Mental Health is a really important HR issue in the workplace and If you need any help or advice on how to approach it, get in touch.

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