Health questions asked in volunteer reference requests

Hi all

Scope received a volunteer reference request last week which asked the question ‘Do you know of any health condition or disability that may affect the individual’s ability to carry out the role?’ – what are people’s thoughts on this? We did not answer this question and said we would not disclose this information as it should be the decision of the individual as to whether something as personal as this is disclosed to the organisation.

As an organisation we aim to make volunteering inclusive for all – creating more and better volunteering opportunities, particularly for disabled people. Are questions like this conducive to the organisation or the volunteer?

I was under the impression that it is illegal to ask medical questions of referees or interviewees for paid roles until a job offer is made? Is this incorrect?

If it is the case, surely it should be the same for a volunteer?

We ask the question directly of the volunteer and word it as follows:
“Additional information: Do you have any medical or health problems that we need to be aware of that could be affected your role as a volunteer? (e.g. heart problems/ asthma/ diabetes/ limited mobility/ epilepsy/ allergies etc.) YES (if ‘YES’ please give information below) NO “.

This is primarily for benefit of the volunteer because we have a duty of care to him or her and we wish to ensure that the volunteer’s own health isn’t adversely affected by any activity they do e.g. a volunteer befriender with asthma or heart problems being allocated a client who lives up 4 flights of stairs or who has a houseful of cats. It also ensures that or that the placement is aware of any health conditions e.g. someone with epilepsy or with type 1 diabetes who may experience a hypoglycaemic event. Such information is never used to exclude a volunteer from volunteering, but if his/ her health could be affected then this is pointed out to the potential volunteer and perhaps alternatives suggested.

In addition, we ask the volunteer to decide whether he/she considers themselves to have a disability and ask the question on our equal opportunities monitoring form “Disability: Do you consider yourself to have a disability? Yes No”.

Volunteers are also asked in some cases to fill in an ICE form -In Case of Emergency; this contains basic information about who to contact in case of an emergency, such as a family member, partner etc, if there’s medication that he/she may need to manage their condition or guidance on how a health problem could be dealt with by the first aider present etc.

In all cases, it is the potential volunteer who provides the information as he/she feels is appropriate and there is no onus on referees to provide such personal information. Personally I think that asking referees that question is completely unsuitable.