Ask Ellie & Jill: Disclosing Medical Conditions While Job Hunting

Posted on September 30, 2021

Ellie and Jill

Ellie and Jill are two anonymous ELGL members who answer your questions about HR and workplace issues. Submit your question for their attention at [email protected].

Dear Ellie & Jill:

I’ve just learned that I’ve been selected to interview for a leadership position in a new organization. I am also dealing with a chronic medical condition that requires frequent absences from work for medical appointments – probably for the rest of my life. While my condition is fairly well controlled right now, there are times when my symptoms are too intense and painful for me to come to work, although during these times I can usually work from home pretty effectively if I have some scheduling flexibility. So my question is, should I disclose this information to my interviewers now? Am I under any obligation to let a potential employer know about my condition? 


Hardworking & Honest

Hi Hardworking & Honest,

We’re sorry to hear that you are living with such a difficult and painful condition, and truly hope that it stays well controlled for you. We can see why you might think it’s appropriate to disclose this information during the information stage — it can feel disingenuous to hold back what feels like critical information during this phase of the recruitment process. But please know, you are under no obligation to disclose this information at this stage in the game and you probably shouldn’t.  

Title I of the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers (including state and local governments) from discriminating against qualified individuals in the hiring process and throughout their employment. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer. 

Such reasonable accommodations can include things like making existing facilities and equipment accessible, restructuring jobs to allow for remote work, modified work schedules, and acquiring equipment that supports the ability of an employee to perform their work. 

There are limits to ADA accommodation though. Employers do not have to provide an accommodation that would be considered unreasonable or create undue hardship. It’s an extreme example, but imagine an airline pilot with a similar condition to yours. It might be reasonable for their employer to accommodate flexible scheduling to work around the pilot’s medical appointment schedule, but it would be entirely unreasonable (and impossible) for the pilot to work from home. 

Depending on the specific requirements and responsibilities of the job you are interviewing for, there are a host of accommodations that your potential employer may be able to enact that support your ability to work effectively. Most HR departments have a process for requesting and documenting ADA-related accommodations.

You can begin this process at any time — there is no requirement that you do so before you accept the offer or begin to work. We recommend that you wait at least until after you have received a formal offer, if not later – like when you are onboarding or after you’ve started. 

The timing of your disclosure is important – while the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified applicants who have disabilities, we know that it is impossible to separate human nature and unconscious bias from the hiring process. Overtly holding your disability against you during the selection process would be all kinds of illegal. But that doesn’t mean that the unconscious bias of the hiring panel wouldn’t work against you. Waiting until you have a formal offer in place to begin discussing the accommodations you require ensures that this bias doesn’t influence the selection and hiring decision. 

All that said, you might have noticed that on some application forms there are some boxes that ask you to voluntarily self-identify your disability status. This information is intended to be used to support reporting and analysis of disability data, not assist in the evaluation of candidates. When an employer asks a question like that on an application, federal law requires that the employer state clearly that the information is being requested on a voluntary basis, that it will be kept confidential, and that refusal to self-identify will not result in any adverse treatment for the applicant. When employers collect this data, they are required to keep it separate from the application. Your decision about whether or not to self-identify is entirely up to you. 

We hope that this information helps and have our fingers crossed for you during your job search.

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