A major New Zealand employer asks job hopefuls to list all prescription drugs or medications they're on.

Kathmandu has been urged by the Mental Health Foundation to reconsider the policy, saying such probing could cause distress and lead to discrimination.

The Christchurch-based outdoor equipment and clothing retailer asks potential hires a range of questions during an online application process.

One mandatory question is: "Are you currently taking any prescribed drugs or medications?"


If people select "yes", they are asked to provide details. If the box is left blank, a submission cannot be lodged.

The same questions are asked for a range of positions currently advertised, including desk jobs such as IT positions and those on the shop floor.

Potential workers are also asked how many days off work due to illness they have taken in the past 12 months of paid work, and whether they have defaulted on loans or have other credit history issues.

Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said Kathmandu's policy was disappointing and inappropriate.

"Knowing what medications someone is taking does not give an employer any information about whether someone can carry out a job competently. However, it does give them clues about a person's medical status that can enable them to discriminate.

"It's okay to ask job applicants if there is anything that will impact on their ability to do a particular job ... it's not okay to ask general questions about medical history or medication that aren't directly relevant."

Shaun Robinson of the Mental Health Foundation. Photo / Supplied
Shaun Robinson of the Mental Health Foundation. Photo / Supplied

Robinson urged Kathmandu and other employers to review the questions they asked during recruitment, and consult the Human Rights Commission's guidelines.

"We are particularly concerned about the impact these kinds of questions have on job seekers who are living with mental distress."


Janet Anderson-Bidois, chief legal advisor of the Human Rights Commission, said, generally, job seekers shouldn't be asked about medical or ACC history during the application process or at interview.

"It is against the law to discriminate against people based on a disability, and experiencing a psychiatric illness or psychological impairment fall within the definition of a disability for these purposes."

Anderson-Bidois said whether questions were permissible would "depend on the specific facts and the nature of the job".

"The job applicant should be told what the job's requirements are and then asked about any medical or physical conditions or disabilities that might prevent them from carrying out the work satisfactorily. Information that is not relevant should not be requested," Anderson-Bidois said.

"The onus is on the employee to disclose any condition that may affect their ability to do the job. There is also an obligation on potential employers to consider whether it is reasonable to make adjustments to the work or working conditions in order to accommodate any condition that is disclosed."

Jarrod Haar, professor of human resources management at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), said he wasn't aware of many other companies asking about all medications and prescriptions.

It was understandable for employers to want to know about potential safety and performance issues, he said. However, people weren't likely to disclose things that wouldn't impact on their work, particularly what prescribed medications they were taking.

"How is that important to my employer? Would you disclose an iron supplement because you're a vegetarian?" Haar said.

"With a super-tight labour market, this might work against them too. People might seek opportunities elsewhere for employers who are less nosey."

Kathmandu did not respond to approaches for comment.

The company was founded in Christchurch in 1987, and has offices there and in Melbourne and London. It has 118 stores in Australia, 48 in New Zealand and a handful in the UK.

The company posted a net profit after tax of $50.5 million for the 12 months ended July 21, up 32.9 per cent, or $12.5m, from the previous year. The record result saw Kathmandu pay 1800 of its permanent staff a $1000 bonus.

Last week, Wishbone eatery was criticised by Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick after a student applying for a job said she was asked what medications she took.