Discrimination at work
Some of us experience disability discrimination at work because of our mental health. Find out about the laws that protect us from discrimination, plus where to go for support and advice.
Discrimination when applying for jobs
This page covers:
When you're applying for a job, employers can't generally ask you questions about your mental health before they make a job offer:
- If an employer asks you any type of health question before making you a job offer, you can report this to the Equality Advice & Support Service (EASS). Do this by filling out their form for reporting pre-employment health questions. The Equality and Human Rights Commission website also has more information about employment discrimination.
- If you answer an employer's health question at the interview stage, then you don't get the job, you may want to challenge the discrimination. A court or employment tribunal will look very carefully at the employer's decision not to employ you. The employer must prove that this decision was not linked to your disability.
Example of an unlawful question when applying for a job
Benny has schizophrenia. He is applying for a job as a shop manager. In the initial stage, the recruiter asks Benny if he has any history of mental health problems.
The recruiter has acted unlawfully by asking Benny health questions in the recruitment process. Benny does not need to answer this question. But if he does choose to answer it, our advice would be that he should answer honestly.
In some situations, an employer is allowed to ask you questions about your health before they make a job offer.
For example, they can ask in order to:
- Find out whether you'll be able to take an assessment for the job.
- Find out whether you need reasonable adjustments in the application process.
- Find out whether you'll be able to do tasks that are required for the role – but they should also consider any reasonable adjustments.
- Confirm that they're receiving job applications from a diverse range of people.
- Confirm that you have the particular disability required for the job. For example, an employer hiring for a project for people with type 1 diabetes, may want someone with type 1 diabetes to run it.
- Assess you for national security purposes. For example, you might apply for a job in government which involves handling highly sensitive information. The employer could ask you any type of health questions during recruitment, for the purpose of security.
Lawful and unlawful questions before a job offer
- Lawful – An employer is recruiting and sends out an application form that says, ‘Please contact us if you are disabled and need any adjustments for the interview’.
- Lawful – An employer is recruiting employees to put up scaffolding. In their application form, they ask relevant questions about disability, health and whether the applicant has a fear of heights.
- Unlawful – Ayo is applying for a job as an advice worker. During his interview, he is asked about his mental health history.
If you're successful in your job application, the employer can then ask you about your health.
In some cases, after asking questions about your health, the employer might be concerned that your health may affect your ability to perform the job. If so, they should seek more information or advice from occupational health or your doctor.
It may be direct discrimination if both of these terms are met:
- Your job offer is taken away when you explain your mental health problems
- The offer was taken away without further assessment or investigation
The job of an occupational health professional is to assess you to find out:
- how your work impacts your health
- if you're fit for the work you do
- what adjustments may need to be made to support you at work.
Your employer can refer you to occupational health if you have a physical or mental health problem that is affecting your work or causing you to take time off sick, particularly if this is more than two or three weeks at once.
If you disagree with their assessment, it is important to seek advice.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
'Disability' has a special legal meaning under the Equality Act, which is broader than the usual way you might understand the word. The Equality Act says that you have a disability if you have an impairment that is either physical or mental and the impairment has a substantial, adverse and long term effect on your normal daily activities.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
These are changes that:
- organisations and people providing services and public functions
- education providers like universities and colleges
- managers of properties like landlords
- clubs and associations
should make for you if you are at a major disadvantage because of your mental health problems and it is reasonable.
Examples of reasonable adjustments include:
- making changes to the way things are organised or done
- making changes to the built environment, or physical features like steps or doorways around you
- providing aids and services for you.
The Employment Tribunal decides disputes between employers and employees about employment rights. An Employment Tribunal is like a court but not always so formal.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This information was published in November 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
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