Take a minute to ask someone, anyone: “Do you know what the Americans with Disabilities Act is?” Most likely you’ll hear Yes.
Now ask, “What does the ADA do?” Maybe you’ll hear that it protects people with disabilities from discrimination. Funny how many people, with and without disabilities, know about this Act but don’t really understand what it does and doesn’t do.
I recently came across a post on MS on the Job: Workplace Protections by under ADA, written by a fellow twitter, @AnnPietrangelo. She summarizes some key points well and it’s worth reading.
I thought I’d fill out the picture from my perspective as a career coach for folks with chronic illness.
The first question Pietrangelo covers is: If your symptoms aren’t obvious (visible to others) and don’t affect your ability to do your job, should you inform your employer and your co-workers?
Pietrangelo writes that you have no legal responsibility, which is true. I’d add that even if your symptoms are obvious, you have the legal right not to talk about it.
But there’s a lot more to this. Most of us aren’t going to file a discrimination complaint against an employer. We just want to get and keep our jobs.
So, you have to figure out what’s in YOUR best interest. You don’t legally have to disclose your illness/symptoms if they’re impacting your performance but if you don’t, you’re going down a slippery slope. It’s one way you can slide yourself out of a job .
Here are some resources to help you think about this. My Career Thrive Booklets, Are You Talking? and 7 Factors , my book, Women Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend! I also wrote about it at MoveOverMs.org : The Ongoing Conversation about MS at Work.
Another question Pietrangelo addresses is: What about the interview process? She writes, “When interviewing for a job, you need not reveal your diagnosis. The potential employer is under no obligation to offer preferential treatment to people with disabilities and is free to choose the most qualified candidate.”
Here, too, you’ve got to think strategically. If you get the sense from the interviews that this employer is looking for a strong team player with a strong sense of ethics and honesty, does it make sense to wait until you’re hired to ask for necessary accommodations?
On the other hand, let’s say the employer seems to care most about your ability to get the job done. You know that you can do that with the right accommodations. So you probably don’t want to say anything until you’ve started work and shown your stuff. But it’s tricky to withhold this information if you need accommodations to do the job.
I just went through this with a client who decided not to disclose until the first day on the job. She felt strongly she wouldn’t get the job if she talked about needing certain accommodations during the job interview. For her accommodations included voice recognition software and shifting some job responsibilities.
She’s been there two months and a day doesn’t go by that she doesn’t get some comment from her supervisor implying that he was upset she hadn’t told them about her “needs” before she was hired. She’s feeling paranoid and is having trouble creating positive relationships. She’s still not sure she would have gotten the job if she disclosed. So she’s not sure if she’d have done it differently.
Does this help you to think about the issues more clearly?
What do you think?