I'm applying for an internship at a university (I'm a student) and the form has a table asking for absences at my last job, with the number of sick days, reason and approximate date as the columns.

I haven't had any sick days but this seems like a bit of a discriminatory question. Is it legal for them to ask this? If not, is it okay for me to merge the columns and state that sick days were not an issue?

  • I understand why this was put on hold. However, this isn't "company-specific"- I've seen many companies do this and people are unaware of the fact that the question is illegal. If it had been locked earlier before a good answer was added then where should a question like this have gone?
    – Lolums
    Aug 31 '18 at 8:59

This is an absolute no-go.

See page 129 of the Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice:


Pre-employment enquiries about disability and health

10.25 Except in the specific circumstances set out below, it is unlawful for an employer to ask any job applicant about their disability or health until the applicant has been offered a job (on a conditional or unconditional basis) or has been included in a pool of successful candidates to be offered a job when a position becomes available. This includes asking such a question as part of the application process or during an interview. Questions relating to previous sickness absence are questions that relate to disability or health. (my emphasis)

Forward this through to the University (anonymously if you’d prefer), I am quite sure they will change their application form double-quick :-)

  • 33
    @Joe Strazzere They can send the email anonymously, using a throwaway address. But I am 100% certain no university HR department will want to fall foul of the Equality Act. Aug 27 '18 at 18:34
  • 3
    @JoeStevens they don't want to fall foul of the law, but that doesn't mean they won't let the refusal to provide the information, even if backed by references to the law, influence their decision.
    – jwenting
    Aug 28 '18 at 6:18
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    @JoeStrazzere: You're eerily close to arguing that one should acquiesce to illegal requests when they really need something. If a (future) employer excludes you because you refuse to respond to an illegal request, you really shouldn't work for that employer. Also keep in mind that OP isn't asking how to ensure he gets the job, he's asking if this question is legal to begin with.
    – Flater
    Aug 28 '18 at 8:08
  • The interesting thing is though, that they may not ask for this information BEFORE one received a job offer/became a successful candidate. What about afterwards though?Seems to be legal then... Aug 29 '18 at 17:03

Since you had no sick days, you can put in zero and be done with it.

However, if you had sick days and / or simply don't want to answer out of principle or because you're uncomfortable to disclose such private information just leave it blank.
Chances are, they won't follow up.

I don't know UK law regarding this but it strikes me as a privacy and medical confidentiality issue and they probably have no legal basis in asking this information.

Should they inquire further you may straight out say, you prefer not to answer (which might let them conclude you had a lot).
You could also ask them directly for the reasoning why they want to know this sort of private information.
After all, it is between you and your former employer and short of pre-existing conditions not repetitive.

Frankly, I don't see this being any of their business.

Should they want to know of any medical condition that may cause sick days while you work for them, they should have asked for that instead. ( that is actually a much more valid question)

In a conversation where they are persistent and you simply don't want to give them that information attempt to deflect by saying something along the lines of

"I can't remember exactly, not many (if that's true)", or "Unless there would be a chronic health issue, I don't think past sick days would provide enough insight into future capabilities to work.", or "it doesn't seem to be relevant information that would warrant private inquiries"

make sure to say in any case or if they're irritated

"I'm not in the habit of calling in sick if I'm not."

because that is basically what they want, to see a pattern of behavior.

You may also answer in a light, slightly humorous form signaling "between the lines" that you don't recognize the validity / importance of the question nor intend to answer it.

If they're making a fuzz about this, you probably don't want to intern there anyways, so don't sweat it if they won't pick you over this.

...unless the internship is extremely good / prestigious or helpful to your academic career, then you might contemplate answering...

Get some free legal advice if you can, this is at least a learning experience for you on how to deal with future questions like these from prospective employers.

  • Except for the first line, you're answering a hypothetical question that the OP didn't ask. Aug 28 '18 at 14:34
  • @DmitryGrigoryev Well,he also asked if it's legal,discriminatory and if he should merge the columns saying "not an issue". So I gave my take on those as well,adding alternatives to his options. In addition I believe this sites' purpose is also to have others with similar questions find possible answers. Hence exploring the case of having sick days. Plus,he might out of principle not want to even state anything specific concerning his sick days/reason for/medical info.After all,"not an issue" as he said may imply unwillingness to give a number at all...it is not stating zero (; Aug 29 '18 at 15:42

I haven't had any sick days but this seems like a bit of a discriminatory question.

Don't overthink questions or change columns which do not even apply to you, just answer that you had no sick days using their template.

  • To clarify: Answer that you had no sick days if you had no sick days, or answer that you had no sick days whether you had sick days or not?
    – gnasher729
    Aug 27 '18 at 18:01
  • 2
    @gnasher729 I admit my English isn't great but the answer doesn't need any such clarification. It already includes both the OP saying they have no sick days and 'which do not even apply to you'
    – Kilisi
    Aug 27 '18 at 18:05
  • 24
    The op isn't wondering how to fill our the form. They are wondering if by asking the question the university has broken the law. The OP may be wondering if they should even apply to a place that is breaking the law (if they indeed are) Aug 27 '18 at 21:36
  • 1
    @RichardTingle op wants to merge columns, it's part of the question, if you actually read it.
    – Kilisi
    Aug 28 '18 at 4:16
  • 1
    @kilisi I did read it, it's a throw away comment and not the main substance of the question Aug 28 '18 at 8:19

is it okay for me to merge the columns and state that sick days were not an issue?

You can always ignore an application question, or answer "it wasn't an issue" and hope for the best.

The company can often respond by not hiring you because of your lack of answer. I never hired anyone who chose not to answer my questions.

Local laws may apply.

  • 1
    @JoeStrazzere I think what's painful is the implication: "Oh, you had 5 sick days, that's too many, sorry we won't hire you". It seems like a really odd question, I've never had an employer ask that kind of thing. It also seems odd because (at least in the USA) the number of sick days is generally pretty limited, or comes out of vacation time, so the number will be somewhere around 0 to 10 days for everyone. Are you really going to make a hiring decision based on that?
    – DaveG
    Aug 27 '18 at 17:57
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    "But apparently they deem it worthy of asking. If the OP wants to get hired, it should be answered." So if a company asks a question, it should always be answered? What if they ask for your religion? Your race? Your gender? Marital status? How many kids you have? There are so many questions that should not be answered and may even be illegal, because they are a strong indication of discriminatory hiring practices. Asking about number of sick days is a great way to decide you don't want to hire someone because their cancer might relapse.
    – David K
    Aug 27 '18 at 18:22
  • 1
    @JoeStrazzere I suppose given that the question is illegal, the other approach to take is to make up the desired answer (I'm a 30 year old dev who has never taken a sick day). They can't ask your previous employer and they can't very well complain later on that you lied about something they can't ask about.
    – DaveG
    Aug 27 '18 at 18:46
  • 16
    If I found an illegal question on an application, and if the employer disqualified me for pointing out that it is illegal, it was probably best for the both of us.
    – stannius
    Aug 27 '18 at 23:08
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    I would add that certain countries like Germany even allow straight up lying about illegal questions, and entering something benign into this form would be permissible, to my knowledge.
    – FvD
    Aug 28 '18 at 4:17

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