Pre-employment health assessments have come under much scrutiny in recent years. There was a time when many organisations would have you up in front of the company doctor for a chat and a “once over” before appointing you. Gradually there was a realisation that this was rather time consuming, expensive, unnecessary and the often arbitrary decision making increasingly ran the risk of flouting the developing anti discrimination legislation. Many companies moved to lengthy questionnaires and now these are becoming shorter and shorter as research, legislation and improving practice has whittled out questions which were inappropriate, unnecessary and occasionally, blatantly illegal.
The Equality Act 2010 recently called into question the legality of using the term “pre-employment health assessment” at all. Legally, you are not allowed to discriminate on health grounds and therefore you are not allowed to choose someone for a job based on the fact that a competing applicant has a health condition. Therefore the Act outlawed health related questions on application forms. You are required to choose the most appropriate candidate and only when you have made the offer, are you allowed to ask about health, and only then for the purpose of making reasonable adjustments so as to accommodate any health problems and not discriminate. Only when you have decided after reasonable deliberation that you will not be able to accommodate someone’s ill health for good reason can you turn the person down and move onto the next best applicant.
Pre-employment health assessments in one form or another are still used in many businesses and there is good reason in any absence management process to have some sort of baseline of someone’s health, even if it’s a simple declaration that the employee is fit, well and free from any ill health that might impact on their ability to do the job you are employing them for. But be careful what you ask for. A fellow contributor on the Occupational Health Jismail site recently advised a great rule of thumb – if you wouldn’t turn them down or modify the role because of the question – do not ask it.