For paid work you can no longer ask these questions

Angela’s right to say that for paid work you can no longer ask these questions until a job has been offered under the new Equalities Act (2010). This legislation doesn’t cover volunteering though, so the organisation Nic recevied the request from hasn’t done anything legally wrong.

I would agree with Nic completely. It’s up to the person volunteering to disclose their support needs. When I’ve worked with organisations to encourage them to be more inclusive, I’ve always recommended that they create multiple opportunities for volunteers to disclose information that is relevant to the person volunteering. You need to recognise that volunteers may not disclose info until a certain level of trust has developed. A useful piece of advice I was given when thinking about disclosure for mental health is:

  • WHAT – people disclose, keep it relevant to the volunteering
  • WHEN – recognise this could be during an interview, on an application form, or in a supervision, etc…
  • HOW – let the person be in control of what is disclosed, ideally avoid something coming out because someone becomes ill.

I’ve found this applicable for disclosure of any health related aspect and guess that it’s the how, which is most relevant in this case.

I would have thought Scope are in a good position to point out the inappropriacy of the question on the reference form.

My position has always been that I would ask these health questions on my risk assessment. I ask the question at each stage: (Application form, interview, training and meetings) “Do you require any support to complete this task / Attend this event”. There is also a question on the Equal Opportunities detatachable section on the application form about disabilities. After the interview and an offer of a place as a volunteer, I then carry out a risk assessment which asks volunteers about any health conditions which may affect their volunteering.

I give examples such as “If someone has asthma which is triggered by pet hair, I wouldn’t match them with a client with a pet”, or “Someone with depression can find it difficult to attend early morning meetings, so I wouldn’t match them with a client who has early morning appoimtments” etc.

I have found that this tends to work and I am able to make adjustments for those volunteers who may not have otherwise had the confidence to ask for them. As for references, I would never disclose any health issues without the prior consent of the volunteer in question. As mentioned by others, it is up the volunteer whether they decide to declare any health issues.

It is also up to the new company to carry out the risk assessments as to whether a client’s health issues would affect their placement. Even though volunteering placements are not strictly covered by the provision in the Equalities Act which makes it unlawful to ask about health issues before the offer of a job, it is still good practice to abide by these rules. They are there to prevent discrimination and the new organization *could* be seen to be unfairly discriminating against the volunteer by asking these questions before an offer of a place.