After being employed for more than 30 years, one of our readers found herself in her 50s, unemployed for the first time in her life.
With extensive qualifications and experience in her field, she firmly believes that it is her medical history, as well as her age, which has become a barrier to finding new employment.
“Mention the word cancer at all on an application and you can forget it – nobody wants to know, even if you are a survivor.”
With the expectation that many of us will have to work into our late 60s – or even later- before retiring – the likelihood that we may be seeking employment at some point with a serious illness in our backgound will become more likely. Do we have to disclose our medical background when attending interviews? I asked Kirsty Lewis , partner at Thomas Mansfield to clarify.
The Equality Act and cancer
According to Kirsty, personal illness and disabilities are covered by the Equality Act, and the answer is no, you are not obliged to divulge any medical information unless there is a medical reason why you would be unable to perform in the role applied for. You need to have the level of fitness required to do the job. You are only required to divulge your medical history after having been made an offer of employment.
How this works in reality may prove difficult, however. If asked about your medical history at interview, if you refuse to answer any questions on the topic, could this be interpreted as having something to hide?
“ For the legislation to work in practice will take some time” says Kirsty. We have had legislation in pace addressing sex discrimination for decades and yet we still see discrimination. The Equality Act is in place to prevent discrimination on a number of fronts, including age and disability, but attitudes and legislation are two different things”.
So what can we learn from this?
- You do not need to volunteer your medical history unless it impacts your ability to do the job.
- Think prior to your interview how , should you choose to answer any health related questions, you can address any health issues in such a way that you make it clear that your performance in the role will not be affected. Think of concrete examples of things you have done since your illness to support this.
- Apply for jobs with the confidence that you are legally on an equal playing field, and that previous illnesses should not be held against you.