A ban on pre-employment questionnaires
During the parliamentary stages of the Equality Bill, Mind lobbied with other mental health and disability charities to get a ban on pre-employment questionnaires included in the Act. After securing cross-party support for the principle of a ban questions on questions that ask about a candidate's medical history and putting considerable pressure on Ministers, the last Government introduced a new clause to the Equality Bill making these questions unlawful. The Bill made it through parliament before the election in time to become law, and we are pleased that the coalition Government still plans to introduce this provision when the majority of the Act comes into force on October 1 2010.
Why do we need a ban?
Far too often, employers use questions about health or disability on an application form to 'screen out' people with a history of mental distress. We often hear of people who are over-qualified for particular positions not even being shortlisted for interview.
I was working as a teacher when I had depression and I self-harmed. I had to leave my job. When I started applying for work again, I called it 'stress' to employers because of mental health stigma, but even then I think they declined to employ me because of the stigma around having stress. [...] Out of nearly ninety jobs that I applied for, I was invited to only one interview, where I didn’t get the job. I felt worthless.
Pre-employment questionnaires permit discrimination to continue almost unnoticed in recruitment, and also act as a deterrent to people seeking employment who may be relucant to disclose a mental health problem. In the USA and some other European countries, it is unlawful for employers to ask health questions until after a conditional job offer has been made to an applicant.
More work to do...
Although we secured a significant change in the law, the work's not over yet. Mind will be campaigning to ensure the ban is implemented and monitored effectively, so employers understand it and can be sanctioned if they continue to discriminate against applicants who report experience of mental distress. Only then will the legal change make a real difference in practice to the lives of many people with mental distress who want to gain employment.
Alongside this, through our Taking care of business campaign Mind will continue to call on employers to create mentally healthy workplaces and fight for an end to discrimination in employment.