A new measure in the equality bill should provide greater protection from discrimination for disabled people looking for jobs.
The government amendment to the bill aims to tackle the problem of employers who use questionnaires that include health and disability-related questions to discriminate against job applicants with hidden impairments.
It was added to the bill – which will streamline existing equality laws and introduce new measures around disability discrimination – as it completed its progress through the Commons.
Vera Baird, the solicitor general, told the Commons that MPs had heard “compelling evidence” from disability organisations that many disabled people were having job applications rejected once employers became aware of their impairments.
Pre-employment inquiries can also deter some disabled people from applying for jobs, she said.
RADAR told MPs at an earlier stage of the bill’s progress that restricting the use of pre-employment inquiries was “probably the single biggest difference and improvement that could be made through the equality bill in relation to the employment of disabled people”.
Baird said the new amendment would deter employers from asking health and disability-related questions and then using the information “for discriminatory purposes”.
There are some situations where employers will be able to ask such questions before they short-list a candidate after a job interview, such as to allow them to make reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process.
But there have been concerns over the way the amendment has been phrased, with some campaigners apparently saying it is too complicated.
The Conservative MP John Penrose told the Commons that both Rethink and the Terrence Higgins Trust had expressed concerns, although he said parliament was “making steady progress in the right direction”.
The government also introduced two other amendments to the bill that aim to tighten up protection from disability discrimination.
One amendment aims to make it clear that disabled people can legally be treated more favourably in order to address the barriers they face.
Another aims to clarify how disabled people are protected from being discriminated against because of issues arising from their impairment.
It is so far unclear how disabled people’s organisations will react to these two amendments.
3 December 2009