Mental health discrimination or prudence in job applications?

It’s reasonable to expect that employers check properly whether job applicants are suitable candidates for the position. It’s also reasonable to expect job applications to not be too intrusive on a personal level.

Should an employer be able to find out whether an applicant is suffering from mental illness, being treated for mental illness or taking medication to treat mental illness?

RNZ: Job applicants face mental health discrimination – Greens

A Green Party investigation has concluded that there appears to be widespread discrimination against job applicants with mental health issues.

The investigation was launched after Green Party spokesperson for mental health Chloe Swarbrick held hui at eight universities across the country to better understand the mental health challenges facing young people.

It was during these hui that Ms Swarbrick said she was surprised to find out from people that they were being expected to disclose their mental health history on job applications so she launched an investigation.

“[We] heard some pretty harrowing and stressful stories – a number of people who were being required to offer up an entire shopping list of the medication that they’re on, other people who believe that they had been prejudiced from the job application process and denied the opportunity to prove their skill set.”

A number of the 59 submitters expressed concerns about what their mental health or medication information would be used for.

“What was highlighted was the number of people who weren’t given clarity around what that information was going to be used for but also, I think what people have to realise is that in a job application process there is a massive power imbalance.

“So when somebody is put in a position where they are being expected to disclose things and may not actually know their rights, that’s a really problematic situation for them to be put in.”

Perhaps that could be addressed by notifying applications of their rights in advance.

The investigation also highlighted that a number of large companies including Wishbone, Coca-Cola, Air New Zealand, New World, Countdown and PWC appeared to be avoiding hiring people with anxiety and depression.

“Rather than reinforcing a culture of stigma and fear around mental health, employers should be providing supportive workplaces and promotion well-being.”

Of course employers should provide supportive workplaces. The well-being of employees has an impact on the well-being of a business.

But employers should be able to consider whether a degree of anxiety or depression was a potential problem in someone being capable of doing a reasonable job.

Mental ‘illness’ can range from minor (and inconsequential in employment) to severe and a major risk.

We all probably suffer from some sort of mental problems at some stage of our lives – degrees of depression can vary a lot, relationship issues, stress (from work or home) can all affect just about anyone.

We already have a situation where discrimination in job applications is not allowed legally – for example on gender, age, race, religion.

But what this means in practice is that employers just have to be careful in what reasons they give for not choosing an applicant – bland ‘someone else was more suitable’ explanations are safe. Saying ‘your age of seventy five, and wanting six months off to go to China for a sex change, skin lightening and hair transplant operations as soon as your probation office and your psychiatrist allows’ risks a complaint of discrimination.

It is difficult to say how much an employer has a right to know about job applicants.

It could also be difficult in differentiating between discrimination and prudence in checking out the suitability of job applicants.

 

Leave a comment

15 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  December 9, 2018

    When company directors are held personally liable for their employees’ actions why wouldn’t they avoid risky appointments?

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  December 9, 2018

      Coy directors avoid accountability and responsibility for anything negative from what I can ascertain.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  December 9, 2018

        You should introduce yourself to the law.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  December 9, 2018

          I am a law abiding citizen…whats your ..excuse?

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  December 9, 2018

            Since you don’t appear to know the law how can you know if you are abiding by it?

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  December 9, 2018

              appearances are deceiving Al….you say you are a scientist….very,very hard to believe..at times.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  December 9, 2018

              You only believe what suits your ideology anyway, B, and a lot of it is utter nonsense.

  2. NOEL

     /  December 9, 2018

    Have a relative employed in early child care. Said their interview process asks those questions. They have a employee on meds and they are all aware when she requires assistance. Seems to work without discrimination.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  December 9, 2018

      It’s possibly just reasonably common for people working with a lot of small children these days in ECC, and subject to all sorts of “don’t you dare”s, spending hours every day having to be nice to dozens of little “mummy & daddy’s precious angel” monsters to be on medication?

      Probably the norm, when I think about it.

      Reply
  3. david in aus

     /  December 9, 2018

    I wouldn’t want to employ someone if they are off-work a good proportion of the time. You can be mentally ill and still produce work. Depression is the most common condition; and if it is mild, it has only minimal effects on work. I don’t care if they are taking medication for mental health disorders if they don’t want me to know. One has to look at the totality of someone’s work.

    Future employers should be able to know someone’s leave history at the previous employer.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  December 9, 2018

      Much would depend upon the severity of this, and I think that employers have the right to know. It’s all very well to say that employers should provide a supportive environment etc etc, but what if the person is like my ex-partner who had clinical depression and was liable to psychotic episodes in which he was a danger to himself and other people ? He spent time in psych hospitals, having ECT and other treatment. Imagine a taxi driver who was liable to threaten to and even begin to drive into oncoming traffic (yes, this happened and it’s more good luck than good management that I am here to tell the tale)

      Employers don’t have an obligation to employ someone who can’t do the job properly and will be taking time off all the time so that other people have to cover for them. Imagine a supermarket where you never knew if X was going to be there at the checkout.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 9, 2018

        This was my ex-partner, not my late husband, I would like to say.

        If someone had any illness that was likely to affect their work, or they were a drug addict, would Chloe Swarbrick believe that the employer should provide a supportive environment? What if someone had severe allergies, and wanted to work in a plant nursery ?

        What if the mentally ill person was likely to become violent if they didn’t take their medication? Should everyone else be put at risk?

        Reply
  4. NOEL

     /  December 9, 2018

    “….off-work a good proportion of the time.”
    Would that be someone who has used up all their sick leave and annual leave?

    Reply
  5. duperez

     /  December 9, 2018

    What questions would you have asked Clayton Weatherston?

    Reply
  6. Mother

     /  December 9, 2018

    ”Mental ‘illness’ can range from minor (and inconsequential in employment) to severe and a major risk.

    We all probably suffer from some sort of mental problems at some stage of our lives – degrees of depression can vary a lot, relationship issues, stress (from work or home) can all affect just about anyone.”

    So true. Why is just about every little unhappiness treated as a big problem?

    Employers themselves are best placed to know how much unhappiness is tolerable in their places of employment. I would hate to see ‘unhappiness’ become a matter for legalisation.

    Reply

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