Kessler Foundation

Should you reveal a disability during the job search?

December 3, 2010: 11:14 AM ET

If you have an "invisible" disability that could affect your job performance, when and how should you tell a prospective employer?

By Anne Fisher, contributor

Dear Annie: I have an unusual problem, but I hope you and your readers can give me some pointers. The situation is this: I suffer from fibromyalgia, which occasionally (about twice a month, on average) is so painful that I literally can't move.

I'm taking medication for it, so it's much better than it used to be, but it is unpredictable. In my last job, I managed to work around it, but now I'm unemployed and seeking a new position. I want to be totally honest with job interviewers, but I'm afraid that, in this shaky job market, if I tell them I have this condition, they won't hire me.

I know employers are prohibited by law from asking candidates about medical issues, but should I bring this up anyway? If so, when is the best time to mention it? --Just Jo

Dear J.J.: Your situation is not as unusual as you may think. About 20% of the population has a disability of some kind, the Census Bureau reports. Of those with conditions categorized as "non-severe", 48% between the ages of 21 and 64 are working full-time, versus 63% without any disability who hold full-time jobs.

The gap is smaller than you might expect, given that most employers -- 82%, according to a survey last month by the nonprofit Kessler Foundation -- have no programs in place for integrating people with disabilities into the workforce.

Moreover, the poll found that 19% of companies have a specific person or department overseeing the hiring of the disabled. That's a big drop from the 40% rate that was recorded the last time the foundation surveyed employers on this question, in 1995.

It may not be coincidental that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission says more people with disabilities filed discrimination charges against employers in 2009 than at any other time in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act's 20-year history. About 21,500 ADA-related complaints were filed with the agency last year. More

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