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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dealing With A Disability

Dear Evil HR Lady,

For years I was practically trapped by panic disorder that got worse and worse until I had panic attacks that would last 6 or 7 hours at least 5 days a week. It made me incredibly avoidant and increasingly dependent on others as many normal situations would literally knock the wind out of me. I would force myself out at times, even into very stressful work, but working while having the same adrenaline as if being chased or falling or something was impossible after a while. Then the miracle of modern science stepped in. I took a pill, thinking it would be useless, and then the panic stopped and the world opened up.

That was then and this is now - two distinctly different worlds, one dark and forbidding and the other normal and filled with light (okay, I live in Seattle so that might be a bit of a stretch).

I'm by no means too fearful now to go up to anybody and ask for a job, but no corporate HR department would allow me to be hired, would they? I'm not complaining. People certainly suffer worse. But it's very frustrating to feel that there is a whole industry which is, in a very real sense, dedicated to keeping people like me out of the workforce.

Dave in Seattle


Dear Dave,

Would a corporate HR department allow you to be hired? Absolutely. In fact, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) most companies can't not hire you due to your panic disorder.

The EEOC gives the following example:
An individual diagnosed with schizophrenia now works successfully as a computer programmer for a large company. Before finding an effective medication, however, he stayed in his room at home for several months, usually refusing to talk to family and close friends. After finding an effective medication, he was able to return to school, graduate, and start his career. This individual has a mental impairment, schizophrenia, which substantially limits his ability to interact with others when evaluated without medication. Accordingly, he is an individual with a disability as defined by the ADA.

If you change schizophrenia with panic disorder, it sounds very similar to you. You developed a disorder which severely impacted your life and now you've found a medication that works for you. Thank goodness for pharmaceutical companies!

But, being prohibited from discriminating against you and actually hiring you are two very different things. Let's tackle getting the new job.

First, are you required to disclose to an employer that you suffer from a Panic Disorder? No. But under ADA, if you need accomodations, you are required to disclose. But, you don't have to do it at the interview stage. And any accomodations need to be reasonable. What reasonable is varies from job to job. For example:

Reasonable: For an accounting position, you need space that is relatively quiet.
Unreasonable: For a lifeguard position, you need quiet to concentrate.

There is lots of advice on when and what to disclose. Some of the advice that I like the best is from Rutgers University's Career Servcies. Monster also has good advice.

My advice is to not disclose before you receive an offer. I advise this for your own peace of mind. That way, you know they are not rejecting you because of your disability. And you may not need to disclose at all if you feel your medication allows you to function without any special accommodations.

If you've been out of the work force for a while, try going back in with temp agencies. They are generally less demanding. If you've been consistently working and are just looking for a new opportunity, attack that job search as you would if you didn't suffer from panic disorder. Remember, you are selling you, not a disorder.

Recruiters can smell confidence, so practice interviewing. Read up on sample questions and get a friend to help you prepare. Make sure your resume is polished and up to date. If you've been out of work for a while, be prepared to answer questions regarding why.

The secret that most job seekers don't know is that the recruiter and the hiring manager desperately want you to be the right person? Why? Because the manager hates interviewing and wants to get back to work, and the recruiter's performance ratings are based on how fast she can fill positions. So, all you have to do is be the right person! Read up on the company. Be able to articulate what you can do for them. And then do it.

Sincerely,

Evil HR Lady

6 comments:

jmm43 said...

The ADA has allowed for some people with some serious disabilities to work where no one would have ever imagined previously. Did you know that there is a blind color-commentator for a minor league baseball team? He is one of the most well known in the business, and you would certainly think eyesight would be a necessity to comment on a baseball game.

Evil HR Lady said...

That is really fascinating. I did a little googling and found an article about it here.

Totally amazing. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I'm the person who wrote the original question, so thank you for the advice.

Of course you're telling me to lie, which is actually the only advice I've gotten on how to deal with resume gaps.

Because you have to remember that people who have things like panic disorder and depression don't necessarily understand that's what it is, especially if the problem gets worse over time. Moreover, these things can be complicated by family and relationship situations and by personal quirks which certainly don't get less pronounced with the strain of a mood disorder.

And so, when the problem gets acute enough, one might get a diagnosis that qualifies ADA or disability or some such thing, but that, of course, won't cover the full time period involved. Also when a person feels normal (now) it's hard to put yourself into a category of sick person. It feels wrong both personally and morally.

But the real take-home here is that the lying that a person with a mood disorder learns to do to cover up what they are going through just has to continue, apparently.

Evil HR Lady said...

You should absolutely not lie. Never lie. Never. You are not obligated to bring up your condition in an interview. You are not required to bring up your condition ever.

If you need special accommodations, which by law they must give you (given that they are reasonable and everything meets the criteria for ADA) then you must disclose. But, if you don't have special accommodations, you don't need to disclose.

As for dealing with gaps in employment, preparing what you are going to say is different than lying. Practice saying, "I was going through a difficult time due to panic disorder and I was hospitalized for x amount of time. Since then, my sypmtoms are under control. I really feel like I can be an asset to this organization because blah, blah blah. . ." That is what you practice saying.

This way, you don't blurt out, "My life was a mess. I went crazy. My wife left me. I couldn't leave my house and I felt like the pressure of my job was going to kill me."

Anonymous said...

This is good advice, but maybe you can help with with this problem: back when I cooked for a living, I got to the point where I didn't even use a resume or even look in the papers for a job. I would find restaurants I liked and just go in between lunch and dinner service and talk to the chef.

I got hired off the street a half-dozen times. There were other times when I got jobs from doing volunteer work - again, I dealt directly with people who came to need help with real problems and when I could help, they hired me.

What is frustrating me now is that I feel more capable than ever, but I am less able to get into these conversations. The HR process seems to be this method of taking the person out of the equation.

I'm confident that if I can do the job and I can talk to a person who needs the job done, I can persuade that person to hire me. But how does one get the chance to have that talk these days when HR departments are swamped with resumes?

Thanks,

Dave

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