Many people with existing mental health problems are reluctant to disclose this information during the hiring process. They fear, often justifiably, that this will reduce their chances of employment.
Employers may be less than willing to hire applicants with disclosed problems, because they fear that the employee will be unreliable, or less competent than other applicants.
Research indicates that employees with mental health problems are usually willing, conscientious and determined to contribute to their workplace.
If employees feel safe in disclosing during the hiring process, future problems can be avoided, or managed in a rational and considered fashion.
What the law says
- You can’t ask applicants about their history of mental or physical illness, but you can ask them if there is anything that will impact on their ability to do the job.
- Applicants don't have to disclose mental health problems. However, if they feel safe to do so, this can make your job as an employer easier. It’s up to you!
- You can’t discriminate directly or indirectly against someone with a mental illness. You need to provide reasonable accommodations to employees unless this will create OSH issues, or it will be unreasonably costly to accommodate that person.
Possible unconscious bias
- Think about your assumptions about ‘suitable’ employees. Are you restricting your employment pool?
- Focus on the job tasks and skills, not the personality of the employee.
- Formal qualifications are no guarantee of competence. People can acquire skills and knowledge in many ways.
- Treat everyone equally.
- Be willing to accommodate differences during your recruitment processes.
- Make it clear that you are willing to accommodate differences.
- Focus on skills and tasks.
- Make all your employment processes clear and transparent. This applies to job descriptions, advertising and interviewing.
Advertising and Promotion
Your aim as an inclusive employer is to ensure that your advertising attracts the talent you need.
If you exclude potential applicants because of illness, you risk losing out on talented, creative and resourceful staff.
Start by asking:
- Are we inclusive?
- Is our advertising biased in any way?
- Does our advertising adhere to legal requirements?
Review your application forms and processes to make sure they allow potential employees to highlight their skills, knowledge, and experience.
- Do the questions focus directly and only on the skills necessary to perform the job?
- Can you give applicants clear job descriptions and let them know the application process and deadlines?
- An interview offers the opportunity for people to demonstrate how they can do the job.
- Assumptions about the impact of previous illnesses are not helpful.
- Be clear about what you are looking for, and ask questions focused on the essential skills.
Recent employment research by Like Minds, Like Mine found that, where special arrangements were in place for employees with experience of mental illness, they were generally simple, and were mainly reflective of good employment practice for all employees, such as flexible working hours or sick leave.
Special accommodations may include:
- adjusting work schedules so that people can work at their best times
- providing flexible or part-time work hours
- allowing flexible breaks
- having flexible sick leave provision
- providing technology (e.g. a computer when working away from the office or software to structure time)
- providing private space to work or ways to block noise
- changing how work duties are performed
- identifying strengths and focusing work around these
- providing a workplace buddy, job coach, or mentor.