Invasive Job Application Questions Are (or Should Be) Illegal

I apologise in advance if this seems like yet more moaning and complaining about my job search. I realise I’ve been rather negative (although hopefully amusingly so) for the last couple of weeks – I’ve been frustrated and impatient.

But today I am actually angry. Not because I haven’t found work and not because I’ve had to jump through hoops to claim benefits, but because of intrusive and, as far as I can tell, flagrantly illegal questions on application forms.

A few weeks ago I went round the local town asking if people had any work. Most places said no. Some said yes and I gave them a CV. One, a hotel with attached restaurant, gym, beauty spa and sauna, gave me an application form.

The application form asked for, amongst other things, the number and ages of my children, my marital status, my uniform size, details of any medical treatment I received in the last three years, whether I smoked, whether I suffered from a variety of things including “depressive illness or nervous trouble” or “earache or ear infection”, and required me to include a photo “to help us identify you”.

It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that I didn’t bother returning the application form. I did note that at the bottom of the front page, in a box marked “Office use only” there were spaces marked Personal qualities, Appearance, personality, etc and Circumstances (Domestic) in which I assume the interviewer was required to record whether or not I was attractive, whether I was happy at home, whether I smiled a lot. I’m sure that if I had applied for a job there and not got it, those boxes would not have said “too fat” or “not pretty enough” because discriminating on those grounds is illegal.

As far as I can tell, asking the questions they asked on the form is also illegal unless there is a very good reason why they are relevant. I’m not sure that the age of my children is ever relevant to a job application – what possible reason could an employer justifiably need to know that before offering me the job? And requiring a photo also appears to be illegal, as it reveals characteristics which are legally protected, such as ethnicity.

I was prepared to write off the form as an aberration, but then I got an application pack for a part time sales assistant job. This one wanted to know whether I had ever had, amongst others, dermatitis or skin trouble, hay fever, back trouble, migraine, nervous breakdown or diabetes. It then asked whether I was currently receiving any medical treatment. The line below is where I stopped filling the form in: it said Please tell us your weight.

I seriously hope that I’m not the only person who thinks that a question like this is absolutely outrageous. From a fairly extensive internet search I have found a lot of websites where people have reported similar questions, and responses have ranged from “they just want to make sure you aren’t a fatty” to “if you’ve got nothing to hide, just fill it in. If you don’t they’ll assume you’re obsese and not hire you”.

That is exactly what I’m angry about. I don’t think it is any of my employers’ business how much I weigh. As a matter of fact I don’t think it’s any of anyone’s business, and the only people who know are the doctors I have seen for medical checkups. There is no possible reason why a company should be asking these questions, particularly when they also ask “Do you have any physical or mental impairment which affects your ability to perform the day to day duties required by the position applied for?”. That question, in my opinion and I am sincerely hoping in the opinion of the UK law, is sufficient. Lying on a job application form is grounds for immediate and summary dismissal, so if someone turns up having claimed to be fit for work and then turns out to be perfectly aware that their medical condition means they are not fit, then the company can fire them without notice or compensation. And anyway, I have suffered from a number of those ailments without any impact on my work at all. When I was twelve I was treated for acute acne. It’s ludicrous that a job application almost a decade later would consider that to be any of their business. It’s inconceivable that an episode of hay fever, or asthma, or earache, could affect my employment prospects.

I can’t find any legal guidance on this from the UK, so I have emailed BBC Watchdog to see if they can clarify. To be honest I’m hoping that they tell me that these application questions are utterly and completely unacceptable, because if they are not then I despair of this country.


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