Stat of the month: unconscious bias in flexible working

By Angela Matthews

A recent Australian report by Symmetra called The Conundrum of Workplace Flexibility shows the unconscious bias that is sometimes present towards employees who take up flexible working patterns.

Unconscious bias against flexible workers can have an indirectly discriminatory impact on many aspects of equality in the workplace, but it should be noted how key flexible working has been shown to be to disabled workers as a common reasonable adjustment. In the Life Opportunities Survey 2009/11, we saw that 60 per cent of disabled people who were not employed because of their disability said that flexible working is one of the adjustments that would help them work, and almost 50 per cent of disabled people in work said that flexible working hours have helped them to stay in their jobs. We also saw in CBI’s 2013 Absence in the Workplace Health Survey that flexible working was the most common adjustment, used by 82 per cent of respondents.

This is another example of how negative presumptions can have a discriminatory impact – especially regarding such a common reasonable adjustment for an employee with a disability or long-term health condition.

Stat of the month: Pre-employment health questionnaires

By Angela Matthews

A recent report published in the Occupational Health at Work journal showed research conducted on the use of pre-employment health questionnaires. Some of the findings suggest that the implementation of section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 – which says that it is unlawful to ask candidates about their disability or health before offering them a job (with some exceptions) – has had a significant impact. The research compares the differences in practices between 2006 and the present.

In 2006, 36 per cent of organisations were using pre-employment health questionnaires to ask extensive questions that make enquiries into, for example, candidates’ history of mental health, long-term conditions such as epilepsy and, for women, gynaecological issues. Only 8 per cent of organisations now continue to use these questionnaires. The research found that questionnaires now tend to be used as part of a conditional offer of employment rather than before an offer is made.

30 per cent of organisations now ask for a ‘declaration of health’ rather than asking questions in a ‘questionnaire’ format. The average number of questions in 2006 was 28, and this has now fallen to 15. It therefore appears that the Equality Act 2010 has helped to improve things.

There is, however, some not-so-good news. Two thirds of organisations ask questions about disability for monitoring purposes, but one in five organisations allow the recruiting panel to see this information. In addition to this, 93 per cent of organisations ask if adjustments are needed for an interview, but 61 per cent ask this on the application form.

If you are unsure whether or not your organisation’s practices are compliant with section 60 of the Equality Act 2010, please contact our Advice Service on 020 7403 3020 or