She Disclosed Her Illness and Got the Job
It’s a decision most of us with a chronic illness have to make sooner or later: When do we disclose our illness, and to whom, and how do we do it?
Thirty-one-year-old Katie Coleman faced that decision not long ago. Coleman has stage 4 kidney cancer, and, in April, she was being interviewed for a software developer’s job she wanted. To tell or not to tell, that was the question.
“The number of [people] advising me to not disclose my [diagnosis] is astounding,” Coleman posted on Twitter.
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) know why that was the case. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits most employers from asking about a medical condition on an application or in an interview, many of us worry that a potential employer may be scared off by the thought that we may need a special accommodation or that we’ll take more than the usual number of sick days. The risk of unemployment for people with MS can be high.
I chose to disclose — once
I understand the concerns about disclosing. When I was diagnosed with MS many years ago, I managed about 50 people at work. I thought they should know why their boss had been in the hospital for about a week and why I might have to take more time off in the future, so I held a staff meeting and told everyone. Four months later, I was fired. Coincidence?
Fortunately, I was hired for my next job by someone I’d worked for prior to my diagnosis. He knew my diagnosis and my work. Everyone should be that fortunate.
What if you wait?
One of my go-to places for disclosure information is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) at West Virginia University. Its website recommends waiting to disclose your MS until you actually need an accommodation, such as a nearby parking spot or voice recognition software. If you do decide to disclose, the website recommends that you only provide the most basic information about your illness and the possibility that you might ask for some type of accommodation down the road.
Former Multiple Sclerosis News Today columnist Tamara Sellman did not disclose her MS several years ago when she interviewed for a job, following her MS diagnosis. She did, however, disclose it after she was offered, and accepted, the position. At the suggestion of a JAN staffer, she disclosed it to her employer’s human resources department rather than to her supervisor.
Katie Coleman’s situation was a little unique. She told Kaiser Health News (KHN) that she was called by a hiring recruiter who had seen Coleman’s tweets about her cancer diagnosis. In her interview with the company’s CEO, Coleman wasn’t asked about her illness, but she was upfront about it.
“My [diagnosis] is my greatest strength, not a weakness,” she tweeted after she got the job.
Would you be upfront about your MS?
Most of Coleman’s Twitter followers say they would disclose their illness, posting comments on her feed such as:
“Congratulations on your new job. No reason to keep your diagnosis a secret.”
“Yes to this! This is how I feel.”
“In the HR world they often say ‘bring your whole self to work.’ Hiding this part of you would cause you more problems than being truthful.”
I agree with them. On the other hand, Coleman told KHN it might not be the right path for everyone.
“My advice is to first do the research on the company that you want to work for and know that they will be supportive,” she said.
How do you feel? Would you or wouldn’t you disclose? If so, when? Please share in the comments below. You’re also invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.