Dear Sam: My husband has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and works as a personal trainer. He has very few physical symptoms, and most people who meet him can’t immediately tell he has MS. He has been applying for positions, and while he has received a few interviews, nothing has panned out. My question is, at what point does he need to disclose his MS? He is very open about it, and we are wondering if he is perhaps being TOO open and scaring potential employers away. – Concerned Partner
Dear Concerned Partner: The general rule under the ADA is that a person does not have to disclose a disability until an accommodation is needed. At that point, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees or candidates with disabilities. There isn’t one correct answer as to the best time to disclose a disability, and it certainly does depend on the visibility of the disability.
Suppose your husband’s MS does not create any limitations in the workplace, and it is not immediately apparent that he has a disability. In that case, it may be best to wait to disclose that information until after the interview. Disclosing post-interview would allow an interviewer to focus on your husband’s qualifications and alignment with the position in question. Also, disclosing after the interview would perhaps show an employer that your husband would likely require limited accommodations given he felt no need to disclose pre-interview.
I would hope that your husband was interviewing with employers that valued diversity, equity, and inclusion, so would have no issue providing any reasonable accommodation necessary. This would allow your husband to feel confident in disclosing his condition, which I imagine would alleviate some stress, allow for the support of his peers, and enable a little more understanding of his medical needs.
When disclosing his diagnosis, he should be sure to maintain a professional tone in his communications and only discuss his condition related to how it impacts his job performance. He may also want to provide a little education for the employer who may have little-to-no familiarity with MS. And, of course, just like anything in a job search and interview process, he should maintain an upbeat attitude throughout.
While I am sure that discriminatory responses occur in the job search and interview process, we also have to remember that he may not have been the best fit for the interviews he has participated in. Maintaining a positive approach to his job search will be very important, as it is to anyone with or without a disability, and ensuring he is applying for positions aligned with his qualifications, skills, credentials, and abilities.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society appears to have some excellent resources on their website that further detail disclosing your medical condition to an employer. They wrote, “Remember that it took you a while to adjust to your diagnosis. Allow your employer some time to digest this information, too. Should you experience an inappropriate or discriminatory response, try to be patient. Following a short period of adjustment, you might be pleasantly surprised. Either way, try to prepare yourself mentally beforehand.” (https://tinyurl.com/k35sc3jk)
I think it is fantastic that you support your husband and that you are both thinking of doing what is best for him and the employer. I can only imagine that this will yield success in his career search, and I wish you both the best.