What Should I Tell Prospective Employers About My Health Problems?

Applying for jobs can be stressful. For people who have some kind of chronic health condition or disability -- especially a condition that's not immediately obvious, like epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, asthma, mental illness, etc. -- a key question is: What should I tell my prospective employer?

Legally, in most cases, you're not obligated to disclose disabling conditions. In fact, it is illegal under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for an employer to ask you about disabilities, unless the questions are directly related to the job duties. (This article does not constitute legal advice. If you do need legal advice, consult an attorney.)

So, it's up to each applicant to decide whether, and how much, to tell potential employers about their health issues. Depending on your circumstances, there may be good reasons not to share any information, and equally good reasons for being upfront about disabilities and chronic illnesses. Consider the following pros and cons.

CONS:

  • Some employers may decide against hiring someone with a pre-existing condition, out of fear that their employee health insurance premiums will increase.
  • Some employers may be afraid of, or prejudiced against, people with disabilities.
  • Even though it's illegal to discriminate based on disability in the hiring process, it can be very difficult and expensive to prove discrimination.
  • If your condition is not going to affect your job performance, then it's nobody's business but yours.

PROS:

  • You may feel more comfortable sharing this information, and seeing the reaction, before you begin working for a company.
  • If you think you will need disability-related accommodations in order to do your job effectively -- things like a flexible schedule, special equipment, or other supports -- your new employer may be legally required to provide these, but only if you explain your needs.
  • The employer is required to protect your privacy.
  • If you do lose the job because of disability bias, and you feel you can prove it, you may have legal recourse. You'll need to find a local attorney who specializes in civil rights and/or employment discrimination.

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