Recruitment and Disability

Susanna King highlights the issues surrounding recruitment and disability.

Q:

I recently advertised the role of receptionist and we had a number of external applicants who submitted an application form for the role.

The head receptionist and I have now interviewed five candidates and made a verbal offer of employment to one individual who has all relevant skills and qualifications for the position as outlined in the job specification which he demonstrated within the interview. The individual also has similar experiences within a smaller practice close by which makes him the ideal candidate for the role.

Unfortunately, this morning the candidate has called me, he has explained that he is delighted to be given the opportunity at the practice but wanted to make me aware that he has epilepsy. He explained that although his epilepsy has been controlled through medication over the past 18 months, prior to this he had a number of days sickness due to the epilepsy and that his current employer is really understanding and provides support at work for his medical condition and wanted to check that if he came to work with our practice that we would also be able to provide the same level of support at work.

This is a situation I have never dealt with previously and I am unsure what he means by supporting him at work. I am really keen to employ this individual but I do have concerns and would be unsure what support I would be expected to provide him with. My head of reception has suggested that we give him a trial basis of two months to see how it goes, and although I am keen for him to work here I am not too sure if it would be easier for me to withdraw the verbal offer completely.

Please can you advise the best way forward.

A:

As per the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful to directly or indirectly discriminate against an individual based on a disability and this includes during the recruitment and selection process. A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities and therefore it may be that that this individual would be covered under the Equality Act and therefore something you need to be mindful of.

As per The Act, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a disabled person during the recruitment process including; arrangements made in determining who should be offered employment; refusing to offer or deliberately not offering a disabled person employment; the terms in which a disabled person is offered employment.

Therefore, by not offering employment to this individual based on the fact that he has epilepsy or only offering the position on a two month trial basis is likely to be seen as discriminatory and leave the practice open to claims of discrimination. Both options carry an element of risk and not something that I would suggest you do in this situation.

If the individual is the most suitable candidate for the role, which can be supported by interview assessment correspondence, then you should make an offer of employment in writing to this individual subject to your own recruitment policy. This cannot be subject to a health assessment but, for example may be subject to the successful completion of a CRB and references, as you would do if you were unaware of the individual having epilepsy.

Under the Equality Act employers are no longer permitted to ask candidates health questions until a candidate has been offered the role, previously offers of employment could be made subject to satisfactory occupational health assessments. The exception to this is in cases when health questions relate to the selection process for example making adjustments for an individual to attend an interview, for monitoring purposes or to determine if an individual can carry out a specific function which is essential to the job, none of which would apply to the situation which you describe.

However, on the basis that the individual has disclosed health information to you and has asked about the support the practice can provide I would suggest that once you have offered the receptionist role to the individual in writing you look at gaining medical advice on the best way forward with this individual, I would recommend this information should come from your occupational health provider, you will of course need the individual permission in order to do this. This may be something you routinely do but if not I would still suggest in this case you seek such advice in order to gain an understanding of this individual’s medical condition and how best the practice can support him in his role.

Once the occupational health report comes back I would suggest you meet with the individual to discuss the contents and any recommendations within it as you would any other employee within the practice. The report may come back with adjustments that can be made in order to support the individual in which you would be expected to try and accommodate where reasonable. As part of this you may need to carry out a risk assessment based on the information within the report.

On the other hand, the report may identify recommendations to the practice that you are unable to make, in which case you will need to be able to demonstrate in business terms that the practice would be unable to accommodate such recommendations and suggestions and terminate employment in line with practice policies and procedures. However, whether the practice is being reasonable in the event of terminating employment will ultimately be a decision made by a Tribunal.

Please note the above guidance is of a general nature. It is important that practices ensure policy guidelines and contractual obligations are followed.

In addition to the above FPM members can obtain further information via the FPM website. Alternatively members can also email specific questions about employment issues to advice@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk where your question will be treated in confidence and will normally be answered (by email) within 2 working days of submission.


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