Job seeking with a disability can be a difficult journey to navigate.
Interviews can be particularly stressful, as you’re never quite sure whether your disability will lead to uncomfortable questions or cause an awkward moment between you and your interviewer.
The good news is that you’re protected by law. There are certain topics that are not allowed to be part of the hiring process, period.
Companies are usually aware of what they need to steer clear of, but that doesn’t mean they always comply with the law.
If your potential employer asks any of the following questions (or variations thereof), then it is not a great sign of a positive working environment – besides they might also be non-compliant with local labour laws.
“Do You Have a Mental or Physical Disability?”
Let’s start with the obvious one. Potential employers are not allowed to ask you about any injury, physical impairment, or any type of disability. They can’t do this directly or indirectly (people have sneaky ways of doing this!).
You should only be answering questions that are directly related to the role you’re applying for. That’s it. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) has a guide that can clarify this further.
“How Did You Get Your Disability?”
If your potential employer is aware of your disability, that doesn’t mean the floodgates are open and all questions are now fair game. They should remain professional and keep questions limited to being about your ability to do the job.
You don’t have to discuss the ins and outs of your disability, or how/why you got it in the first place. It shouldn’t happen during the interview, after you’ve been given the job, or even if you’ve been around for decades. It’s invasive, inappropriate, insensitive, and downright wrong.
“Do You Have a Disability That Will Interfere with the Job?”
This one is a little tricky. People often think they need to answer it, as it deals with the job. But that’s not the way it works.
You should be asked questions about whether you are qualified and able to do the job you’re applying for, but you don’t need to disclose information about your disability directly. Even if you’re applying for a job as a support worker for those with disabilities (where it would perhaps seem very relevant), for example.
“How Many Sick Days Did You Take Last Year?”
Another one of those questions that may be indirectly attempting to find out about any disabilities.
The answer? None of your business (though maybe choose another way of phrasing it!).
“Have You Ever Been Treated for a Mental Health Condition?”
This can seem like a reasonable question, especially if it concerns a past treatment. But that’s irrelevant.
Your interviewer does not have a right to know what your medical history is, active or otherwise.
“Do You Take Any Prescription Drugs?”
Whether it’s for a physical ailment, mental health condition, or otherwise, your potential employer has no right to ask about any medication you may be taking.
Employers are allowed to answer this after an offer has been made, but only if every single employee is being asked the same question as standard. In other words, they can’t single you out due to a disability.
Other Questions an Interview Should Not Ask
While we’re at it, we’re going to give you a list of additional interview questions your interviewer should not be asking. These are not (directly) related to a disability, but should nevertheless be avoided.
If you’re ever asked any of the following, the alarm bells should start ringing loudly.
- Relationship status. Questions about your marital status, your sexual preference, or anything related to your personal relationships are forbidden ground.
- Culture/religion. You should not be asked anything about your religious beliefs or cultural background, especially if the question is based on your physical appearance.
- Age. Discrimination based on age is a serious business. Laws exists to protect workers, and any questions about age or date of birth are out of the question. Be careful about leading questions, which equate to the same thing. For example, how long you plan on working until retirement.
- Criminal convictions. This is a tricky one, and it depends on the laws in the country in question. In the United Kingdom, for example, there’s the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you don’t need to disclose your ‘spent’ convictions, most of which elapse after 5 years, unless you’re applying for a job in certain industries (e.g. banking or financial services).
Some of these questions can seem innocent. They very well may be. For example, your interviewer may have attended the same college as you.
That’s a nice coincidence, but the graduation year should remain a mystery. Or they may think your accent sounds interesting or cool, but that doesn’t mean they get to know where you’re from. Just make sure you don’t feel forced to reveal something you don’t have to.
But Wait, What Is Allowed?
You may be left feeling a little confused. So what is allowed?
If it’s to do with your capacity to fulfil the role, it’s fair game (as long as reasonable accommodations are made, which you do not have to disclose at interview. For example:
- Can you do the job? The interviewer is able to ask whether you have the background and ability to do the job.
- Will you need a reasonable accommodation for the hiring process? If the hiring process includes an interview, written test, presentation, or similar, the employer is allowed to ask whether you need reasonable accommodation. This applies to the process only, not the job itself.
- How do you intend to perform your role? The interviewer is allowed to ask this question if it fits into the general process. It may not, however, be geared towards your particular disability.
Responding to Illegal Interview Questions
I’ve been in that awkward interview position before.
You want that job so much and the power dynamic is such that you want to answer everything that’s put in front of you. Even if it’s wrong or even illegal to be asked that question.
If you’re asked any of the questions above, you have several options. They may seem daunting or uncomfortable, but remember you are within your rights to do any of the following:
- End the interview. The most extreme option, sure, but you have the option to call time on the interview. If the question really is out of order, would you want to work for a boss like that anyway?
- Refuse to answer. It’s not an excuse, but ignorance may be the root of the problem. You can opt to refuse to answer and move on to the next question.
- Find the intent. If you think the interviewer is asking the question completely innocently, you may opt to answer the intent of the question (rather than the question itself).
- File a claim. If you think you are being discriminated against when applying for a job, whether it’s due to race, disability, religion, age, or otherwise, you may want to consider filing a charge of discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) deals with such requests; you can deal with them directly or contact an attorney to act on your behalf.
Navigating employment with a disability can be a challenge, but you should never feel that you are inferior or judged for your condition. It’s unfair, unwarranted, and illegal. Protect your rights, find a company worth working for (they do exist!), and remember there is support available should you need it.