Disclosing mental health difficulties in the recruitment process

Submitted by Dawn on 29th May 2019

HR, mental health, recruitment, employee, employment

Just a couple of weeks ago it was Mental Health Awareness Week. Much of the British media devoted hours of air time, column inches and cyberspace to this sensitive and difficult issue. A good thing too. How else are we to even begin to break down the prejudices and taboos that are riven through the debilitating and often, devastating, world of mental illness?

In the HR sector, there are specific challenges with mental health. In this article, we’re going to look at a few of these, particularly in the job selection process.

Boosting confidence, skills and social relations

Work is vital to our health, happiness, self-esteem and personal growth. Work enables us to contribute to society. Many of us are lucky enough to take our working life and its benefits for granted. Not so for people experiencing mental health difficulties. For them, the very act of getting to work and performing to their best can be a challenge. Equally, it’s a challenge that, by overcoming, can contribute to the recovery process by boosting confidence and developing skills and social relations.

In the workplace, people who experience mental health difficulties have the legal right to enjoy the same opportunities and to be treated equally as anyone else - without fear of discrimination. Employers’ procedures and guidelines should ensure that these rights are enshrined within their businesses. This is defined by the Equality Act 2010.

Should mental health be brought up as part of the interview process?

Whereas historically, employers were allowed to ask about health history prior to interviews and job offers, now it’s different. Employers can only ask these questions at the point of the job offer. The only exception is if a specific ability is required for the role or if absence of a certain ability would result in a health and safety risk. An example might be - a fireman would be expected to be able to be physically and mentally capable of dealing with rescuing someone in danger.

As a potential employer, you are allowed to ask a candidate to complete an employment health questionnaire, at the point where you offer them a job. But, at this stage, it’s illegal for you to withdraw a job offer on the grounds of a disability.

Is a prospective employee obliged to disclose their mental health condition?

They may disclose at any time before, during or after the recruitment process but deciding to do so is a personal decision.

Reasons they might disclose -

- Having disclosed, they may feel less pressure in the workplace.

- They might feel better placed to ask for help when they need it rather than be seen to be struggling in their role.

- They may be entitled to receive what the Equality Act calls ‘reasonable adjustments’. Through discussion and negotiation, these adjustments to their work should be designed and implemented in the spirit of enabling them to fulfil the role without being disadvantaged by their difficulties.

As an employer - 

- You should be focusing on a person’s ability to do their job rather than the nature of their health or disability

- Do you have an Equal Opportunities Policy, where you commit to employing without prejudice?

- You should treat all employees equally, in spite of mental health difficulties

- If they do disclose, they should expect some discussion with you regarding how their difficulties may affect their performance.

Reasons a candidate may choose not to disclose -

- Discussing a mental health issue can be challenging

- They may fear discrimination and feel judged

- They may feel that they want to keep their health issues private, feeling that they won’t affect their work performance or they are not relevant to their ability to do the job

- Competition for jobs. They might fear that disclosing a mental health issue will make them appear less employable.

Other resources

What if you’re unsure about disclosure - about your obligations when faced with a potential employee with mental health issues? How should you respond?

Here are a couple of sources of information.

- Employers Forum on Disability - www.employers-forum.co.uk employers with a positive approach to recruitment

- Equality and Human Rights Commission - www.equalityhumanrights.com.

Here to help

As experts in Employee Engagement & Retention, we understand the complexities of workplace dynamics. We also have a deep understanding of mental health issues in the workplace.

For straight-talking advice on all aspects of HR, call us - 01604 763494

Or email - info@GravitasHR.co.uk