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(This question is specific to UK-based companies.) Recently when applying for a job, I came across a field in the 'Equal Opprtunities' section of the application which asked 'Do you have any disabilities?' and listed 'Mental health' as one of the options. I was not sure what to choose under this option, so I went for 'Prefer not to say'.

I have been diagnosed with depression over various occasions during the past few years for which I have needed counselling therapy as well as being prescribed antidepressants. I am currently on anti-depressants too as part of continuing treatment for a major depressive episode last year. During these periods, I have worked on internships where my performance reviews have been excellent as well as maintained my grades at university (I'm still an undergraduate), so I don't consider this to have 'affected' my output adversely.

My question is this:

  • Under UK laws, what exactly is classified as a 'mental health' issue - depression one of these items which fall under this?
  • If yes (to the above question), am I obligated to disclose this information at any stage: during the application, interview, or onboarding process?
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Very much a question for a lawyer. Voting to close. –  pap Jan 18 '13 at 8:54
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I don't know whether you have to disclose it, but I can tell you that (In theory at least) those sections are designed for the exact opposite of what you think. They're generally put in by bigger / government organisations to prove that they're not discriminating on the grounds of disability. –  Dan Jan 18 '13 at 9:29
    
Talk to your doctor/counselor. None of us are doctors nor lawyers and trying to make assumptions based on what you've said here is difficult if not impossible. –  enderland Jan 18 '13 at 16:17
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@Dan - I have a friend how is a top notch professional with a masters that would not get a call back when he disclosed his disability on those forms early in his career. What they are designed for and how they are used are 2 different things. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 19 '13 at 1:46
    
even trickier, both refusing to disclose and giving incorrect information are equally damaging to your chances of getting hired. IOW if you see such questions, and you are disabled, you're fchked... You can sue the company for damages, and they'd get fined, but you'd still be out of a job and get your name blacklisted as a troublemaker with recruiters in the process. –  jwenting Feb 13 '13 at 18:13

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

First of all, to answer your specific questions:

  • Depression is a mental health issue, and I'm going to claim that's self-evident. What's not self-evident and more relevant is whether it's a mental disability. I'll discuss that below.

  • You are never obligated to disclose any health issue unless it affects your ability to do the job. As you describe it, that clearly isn't the case here, since you've maintained your grades and had good performance reviews in your internships.

To expand somewhat:

There are firm definitions in the UK of what constitutes a disability with regard to employment law: it's something that has both a "substantial" and "long term" negative effect (Source: Gov.UK).

In general, I would expect mild-to-moderate depression not to count. I expect severe depression lasting (or expected to last) more than 12 months would count. (For foreigners, I'm using the UK definitions of these terms based on my experience with my own diagnoses; I have no idea if they mean the same or are used at all elsewhere.) You'd need to speak with your GP to get a more firm idea of whether your present or past depression counts as a disability, but based on your description (specifically, it being "various occasions" rather than a chronic condition, and your maintaining good grades and positive performance reviews), I suspect not.

If you disclose any disability to an employer in the UK, the Equality Act 2010 etc mean they are obligated not to unfairly discriminate against you and to make reasonable adaptions for you ("unfair" and "reasonable" preclude someone who needs a wheelchair to move about from working as a paramedic, for example). However, unless a disability affects the job you're doing, there is no requirement to disclose it at any point. (Source: Prospects)

In any case, I'm surprised a recent job application has asked that question. Under the Equality Act, an employer isn't allowed to ask about health or disabilities at all before they offer you a job, except with the specific goal of making accommodations for your application (ensuring there's a ramp in place for someone in a wheelchair interviewing, for example). (Source: Time to Change and ITD)

For further reading, take a look at Time to Change. It's a website and campaign run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and funded by the Department of Health, with the goal of reducing and removing discrimination based on mental health and mental disabilities. Their Support in the Workplace section is obviously particularly relevant.

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Excellent answer with right references! –  Ankur Banerjee Feb 13 '13 at 13:04

The questions you need to ask are:

  • Does your condition require special accommodations?
  • Would your condition create a situation where you could pose a risk to yourself or others in the performance of your duties?
  • Can you perform your job with out any special treatment, or regular or irregular periods of time off(beyond the normal weekends and holiday)?

If you can answer no to the first two and yes to the third then you should not need to disclose your condition as a disability. Unless it would require accommodation then you may not be protected under Equal Opportunity law should you disclose the condition.

If you answer yes, and the company chooses to continue with the hiring process then you would likely have to disclose the nature of your disability at some point during the on boarding process so that they could make necessary accommodations for you. If reasonable accommodations are not possible for the position then you could be disqualified from consideration.

If you are still uncertain then I would speak with your doctor about your concerns and get their recommendation.

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The first question is, have you been asked about your health? have you been asked if you have had depression or mental illnesses in the past? Without doubt, clinical depression is a mental illness.

If you have been asked a question, then you need to answer it fully and openly. Not doing so, would be grounds for the company to sack you later. However, there is no need for you to volunteer the info if you have not been asked.

Depression as an illness affects different people in different ways. For some, it creates a real spark of creativity on the high swings, but it can also create periods (months) of unproductive time, anxiety and manic behaviour. Being able to talk about how it has affected you in the past, and how it has been managed, with your university grades not suffering is something to make clear in any disclosures you make.

In particular with access to money, depression has an association with sufferers stealing money from their employer during down phases. As a result, banks and insurers often ask about depression and reject the candidates who admit this on their application.

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Downvoting because no sources are cited for the claims made about workers dealing with depression. Also, this was a question more about what UK law states. –  Ankur Banerjee Jan 23 '13 at 23:06
    
Under UK law, this is simply not true – you do not have to disclose health issues that aren't relevant to the job, even if you are asked. Dismissal on those grounds would be unlawful. –  me_and Jan 30 at 12:10

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