In an article published today by Broadcast magazine, we at Directors UK have called upon health insurers to stop including intrusive and often sexist requirements on their forms.
These forms are a staple for freelance production staff and too often require overly intrusive or gender-specific information, including details of mental health issues, pregnancy or menstruation. Directors UK, alongside BECTU, are worried that this can have a stigmatising effect – making it harder for people with mental health issues or pre-existing conditions to find work.
Speaking to Broadcast, Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns said that the practice, which predominately affects drama directors, was “incredibly intrusive, especially for women”, and highlighted the particular pressure on freelancers: “there is enormous pressure to comply – if you don’t, then you don’t get a job”. Philippa Childs, head of BECTU, added that “it is extremely unlikely that a permanent member of staff would ever have to offer up this kind of information, and it is wrong for freelancers to have their dignity undermined”.
Last year, Directors UK ran an article from a member setting out these concerns – which you can read in full here. Our member questioned the need for gender-specific information, asking “How does the insurance industry justify the level of information freelancers are expected to divulge for very short jobs? What percentage of claims paid out last year were for ‘problems with periods/breast/uterus’, ‘sexually-transmitted diseases’, or indeed ‘prostate issues’?”. They also added that, “It’s not just the forms; unfortunately the accompanying medicals can be pretty grim too… The last straw for me was three years ago when a dodgy doctor threatened to write me up as unfit for work if I didn’t ‘strip to my underwear’. I declined.”
Quite aside from the invasive nature of the questioning, there are also concerns regarding the storage and protection of data. There are concerns about placing such sensitive information on record, and freelancers are understandably worried that this could be viewed by those who aren’t legally entitled to access it.
There are some small signs of progress: the BBC is reportedly trialling a new system and Hiscox have recently dropped questions regarding menstruation. But there’s still a long way to go. A prominent director — who recently refused to sign a “deeply inappropriate” form — is quoted by Broadcast as saying the wording has “barely been updated” in 20 years. Meanwhile, Andrew Chowns added that “Insurance companies don’t appear enormously interested in readdressing the practise, but in the #MeToo era, we are keen to modernise the process.”