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Should you tell a job interviewer about your RA?

Ms. Meniscus advises a reader on when to zip her lip.

Ms. Meniscus,

My RA can be painful, and it can affect my movements sometimes. I work in an office, and the company has been accommodating in giving me an ergonomic chair and keyboard. However, our parent company was recently bought by a hedge fund and there are some serious rumors of coming layoffs. I've begun looking for a new job. Do I need to tell the interviewer about my RA? Should I ask about accommodations up front, or wait until I have the job?

--Karen in Ohio

Dear Karen in Ohio,

Oh hon, first of all let me say that a hedge fund buying out your company and the ensuing rumors of doom makes for an extremely stressful situation. However, Ms. Meniscus is glad to hear that you are not simply waiting around to see what happens but taking action to look for other work. Life is always less stressful when we take some control of a bad situation instead of waiting around for something really awful to happen.

With that said...

NO, you do not need to volunteer about your rheumatoid arthritis. NO, you do not need to tell the interviewer about your RA. It is none of their business – by law you don’t have to say anything and it’s also strictly verboten for the interviewer to ask. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) strictly prohibits pre-employment inquiries about a disability.

So okay, say you go into the job interview prepared not to say a word about your RA, and the interviewer doesn’t outright ask  if you have any disability or illness that may impact doing the job. The interview is going well and you’re very proud of yourself for not saying a word about your RA even in the face of a possible inner need to be a “good girl” who always tells the truth.

But then...

The interviewer throws you for a complete loop and suddenly shows you a job description and asks if you can do the job. You glance over it and think no way can you do the job without a special chair or desk and/or ergonomic keyboard—even breaks so you can get up and walk and stretch instead of sitting on your tuches for hours.

What should you do?

If they show you a job description and ask if you can do the job, you should say YES.

As an fyi, this is not lying or exaggerating...if you can do the job with something like a special chair or keyboard—what is known in the law as reasonable accommodation—you can do the job. Period. So say, “Yes. I can do the job,” and mean it.

Then, after you have been offered the job...

Your potential employer can require a physical examination be passed before starting. This is when your RA will be revealed, and it can be determined that you need "reasonable accommodation" to do the job. Your potential new employer has to accommodate you unless it would cause the company undue hardship.

If they don’t make reasonable accommodation, you should see an attorney—and let Ms. Meniscus and all of us here at CreakyJoints know.  

A good resource Ms. Meniscus would like to recommend is the  Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free consulting service with the mission to increase the employability of people with disabilities. As their website notes, JAN offers solutions regarding worksite accommodations, provides information regarding the ADA and other pertinent disability-related legislation. To visit their website: www.jan.wvu.edu.

Good luck, my dear girl.

 -- M 

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