Universities in Wales have been accused of asking “unnecessarily intrusive” health questions to successful job applicants.
Research carried out for Plaid Cymru AM Lindsay Whittle found new starters at some universities were asked whether they have had bowel complaints, an eating disorder or a cough lasting more than three weeks.
Other lines of inquiry consider whether or not applicants have had a recent chest x-ray, foot problems or unexplained weight loss.
Applicants applying for food handling jobs at Glyndwr University were asked “if you bite your nails or skin from the nail bed” and whether they have recurrent boils or septic disease.
Overall, the Wrexham-based institution asks up to 56 health questions covering a wide range of topics, including: “Have you made any attempt at self-harm?”, “Have you had a problem with alcohol consumption or other substance abuse?”, “How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?” and “Are you at present having injections, pills, tablets or medicines?”
Elsewhere at Cardiff Metropolitan University, applicants were asked whether they have had a perforated eardrum, a recent chest x-ray, foot problems, bowel complaints, varicose veins and drug or alcohol problems.
The questions were obtained using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act with a means to finding out whether universities in Wales were complying with the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equalities Duty.
Mr Whittle, AM for South Wales East and Plaid’s equalities spokesman, said: “This detailed investigation has uncovered the extent to which some universities delve into the medical history of job applicants.
“Many of these questions, although not unlawful, are unnecessarily intrusive and unacceptable. You do have to wonder why some universities believe it is acceptable to ask such a huge range of questions.
“We found a wide variation in the numbers and types of questions asked by universities. Bangor University, for example, does not ask prospective employees to complete a medical questionnaire unless they were filling posts that require specific tasks to be carried out, while at the other end of the scale, a generic health questionnaire from Glyndwr covers more than 50 questions.”
Mr Whittle called for the introduction of a standardised set of forms – for use by all Welsh universities – that would enable easier monitoring of their compliance with statutory obligations.
He said: “An exception might relate to certain questions asked on occupational health questionnaires where a university might need to discover whether a successful applicant would need special adjustments, tests or relevant information because of the particular environment in which they would be working.
“Without such justification, it is doubtful whether any questions other than those included in the job application or equality monitoring forms need to be asked. In this context, one or two examples of ‘good practice’ could be identified that could serve as a model to be adopted by other Welsh universities.”
A spokesman for Glyndwr University said the institution does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of health grounds.
He added: “The health questionnaire was recommended by our occupational health provider, North Wales NHS Trust, and, as the AM admits himself, the questions are not unlawful.
“The main purpose for including questions relating to disabilities on the application form is to ensure the university is aware of any applicant who need reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process.
“Potential appointees are only requested to complete a medical questionnaire upon receipt of an offer of employment, which enables the university to make any necessary adjustments to help them perform their job role.
“Glyndwr University is disappointed to read the AM’s comments as we responded to all questions and were informed as this was a draft report, we would have the opportunity to respond to and take onboard any recommendations for best practice from across the sector.”