job-search

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I recently read an article from Fast Company that addresses whether you should disclose information about your invisible illness to a potential employer when looking for a new job. That was the “gateway” article that lead me down the rabbit hole of googling other blogs/articles on this issue. Wow is there a lot of varying opinions out there!!! Thought BBNB should weigh in on this issue and how it relates to CFS / CFIDS and other Chronic Illnesses that tend to be Invisible to the uneducated eye.

First- KUDOS for continuing (or attempting to continue) a “normal” life while enduring chronic pain and/or chronic fatigue syndrome. These conditions affect all aspects of your life so don’t make light how hard “a normal 9-5 job” can be. In the article posted by Fast Company, the author (Professor of Psychology) says

“After all, everyone has issues in their personal lives that may affect their work performance. Potential employees may have young children or kids with special needs. They may have aging parents who need extra care. They may be going through a divorce. They may be active in nonprofit groups that take up a lot of their time outside of work.”

My initial response is NONE of those circumstances affect the potential employee physically or hinder them from doing a job or something they would choose to do themselves. HOWEVER, they are all valid life happenings that may take away from a employees performance. Another point made by the Professor is that

“…there is no reason to provide information that might get more weight than it deserves, just because the individuals evaluating applicants are in a mindset of rejection.”

Being a business owner, I can personally understand where he is coming from on this. I’ve received over 100 applications for 1 position before and my task is to eliminate over 75% of those initially based on criteria. So when an employer/HR Director is in that mindset, it may not be a good time to add something to a socially conceived “negative” column.

Having also been a chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic pain sufferer for 14 years, I also understand what it is like to hide my disability, work countless hours to get something done to my “normal” standards and to be in and out of jobs because I get too tired to continue a rigorous work schedule with the same company for long periods of time. I kept my illness to myself for almost a decade, taking work breaks to sleep in the car, lying to my employer about sick days, family emergencies, etc to cover up my inability to get out of bed and come into work. Going through all that and THEN continuing to need to have an income is exhausting; both emotionally and physically. So I understand the desire to want to be upfront from the vey beginning about a condition you may have that would prevent you from doing specific tasks.

The article goes on to site the Americans With Disabilities Act and when the best time to site that with an employer is. I tend to agree that this act is a defense against an employer’s action rather than a proactive stance a potential employee can use to their advantage.

In summary of this Fast Company article, I would say it has valid points from a potential employers point of view but lacks the knowledge of what it is like from the potential employees side that is dealing with the actual disability.

Everyday Health recently released an article written from more of a patient’s perspective that has a list of things to consider before disclosing a disability. Knowing all the facts will help you make a more informed decision. The author, Katrina Overland, goes on to note:

“It’s always some kind of risk, and it’s hard to know if your employer will treat you fairly. It might be hard to prove discrimination during the hiring process. The decision is even more difficult to make if the details of your rights under the ADA are unknown or hazy.”

A VERY VALID POINT! And one the other articles I have read do not address. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not clearly defined in the Disability Act and Fibromyalgia is incredibly new to the disabilities list and therefore still has a lot of grey room in the discrimination element.

Again, in my opinion, I would use the Disability Act as a reactionary resource and not something you can rely on while going into a new employment situation. 

Overall this article did a great job of presenting a patient’s perspective on the challenges of interviewing with an Invisible Illness.

And yet another perspective comes from a NY Times article written in 2013 about a woman’s struggle to secure a job because she hid her disability. While this particular article is about a woman with hearing loss, and others with a array of mental illnesses, it can be directly applied to most invisible illnesses in the hiring process scenario. My favorite quote from this article is from John Waldo, the founder, advocacy director and counsel to the nonprofit Washington State Communication Access Project:

“…Put bluntly, the problem is not so much that people are mean, but rather, that people are clueless.”

 

We would LOVE if your provided your comments or personal experiences with job searching and hiring process in the comments section below. 

 

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5 Responses to “Should I Disclose My Invisible Illness To A Potential Employer? Article Reviews”

  1. Nancy Surdo

    Great information that should be helpful to others who struggle with employment while managing a chronic illness. There’s nothing black or white and each person’s situation is different. This may help some who just don’t know what choices they may have. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Dr. Michelle Lemley

    I am a disabled former employment litigation attorney. Ironically, I litigated several ADA cases while suffering from at least 10 dessicated or bulging discs, scoliosis, bursitis in both hips, arthritis of the spine and sacroilial joints, CFS and fibromyalgia. My bosses knew nothing of it until I reached the point of total disability and had to take a permanent leave.

    There is no point in telling your employer you have a disability unless it is likely you will need, and the employer would be able to provide, a reasonable accommodation. If that is the case, you should bring up your disabilty only after you have received a letter offering you the job. If they withdraw the offer upon learning of your disability without trying to reasonably accommodate you, they may be in violation of the ADA.

    Before you request reasonable accommodation, make sure your diagnosis has been confirmed in your medical records. Your self-diagnosis is useless, even if accurate. Your doctor(s) must be on board.

    Fibromyalgia was controversial for years, but following a critical study by the University of Michigan (if memory serves) and FDA approval of drugs specifically for fibromyalgia, it is no longer reasonable to say “It’s all in your head.” In fact, I believe it is set off by prolonged, extreme stress, and several neurologists and internists have not doubted that analysis. I believe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is closely related and often accompanies fibromyalgia.

    Long story short, you should not notify a prospective employer of a disability until you have a written job offer. Then, with medical documentation of your specific work restrictions, you can ask the employer for a reasonable accommodation. That does not mean the accommodation you prefer or suggest, but any accommodation that will enable you to perform the essential functions of the job. Last time I checked, regular attendance was always an essential function of any job, but I’ve been out of the game for almost a decade and can’t offer legal advice to anyone. Therefore, you should consult with a practicing attorney in your State.

    Reply
    • Lindsey

      Thank you so much for this commentary Michelle. I, nor anyone on our board or contributing writers, have any experience in the field you do. Hearing your expert opinion was a great addition to the blog. I (BBNB Founder, Lindsey) wrote my review and opinions of the sited articles due to my lack of technical prowess in this legal area. I too have been “out of the game” for a while (7+ years) as far as being employed by someone else. Interesting to see how things seem to have changed over the last decade with awareness but not major accommodations exist for most of those afflicted with a chronic or invisible illness.
      Appreciate your comments. Please provide them whenever you feel up to writing them! Thanks again

      Reply
  3. Loretta Montgomery

    My husband happens to be the top ADA expert in the country. ADA if not followed you report to the Justice Department who handles those issues. In terms of being disabled, companies usually put down that they are a EOE in writing, Veterans, PWD’s, etc. You are entitled to FMLA by law and that goes for every company. How may I submit an article on this topic. Once I became completely disabled 100% incapacitated many changes were created to make life smoother for my family. Please let me know how I may be of assistance here as I do a lot of education to physicians as well as companies. My disease won’t beat me if I don’t allow it. Been sick going on 2 decades now and I’m a happy woman at age 52. Will be happy to be of service and help. There needs to be a motivation link I’d love to create here. Life is great. Take you mind away from your body then things will fall into perspective as I imagine there are many who cry daily, who don’t bathe regularly and that struggle to even have some sanitary home. Would love to help anyone who needs it. Mahalo Nui Loa – Loretta Montgomery

    Reply
  4. Erica

    Thank you that was very helpful to know NOT to let them know until AFTER the job is offered to you. And Loretta Montgomery, I’d be interested in the links that you are talking about putting up. :)

    Reply

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