Should I tell the truth on a medical form for a prospective job?
October 29, 2004 9:03 AM   Subscribe

So I've been shortlisted for a job, and I've been sent a Health Declaration to fill in and return before the interview. Filling in the form truthfully would mean disclosing my history of clinical depression and my current medication. I'm afraid that, if I disclose this information, it may damage my chances of being offered the job. So what should I do? Answer truthfully, and hope for the best? Or say nothing, and risk the consequences? What's the worst that could happen to me if I withhold this information?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total)
Definitely withhold it--it'll be used to deny you health coverage for the current medication if disclosed.
posted by amberglow at 9:09 AM on October 29, 2004

It depends where you are. Amberglow's comment is irrelevent outside the States.

In the UK, I would recommend being up front with it. Not disclosing a pre-existing condition like depression is most likely cause for dismissal if your new employers found out about it. On the other hand, in the States employees get few protections, so this point is also likely to be moot.
posted by salmacis at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2004


Unless this job falls under some special classification, I'm pretty sure that the form is illegal and you shouldn't answer it. Basically, it opens the door for hiring discrimination. Companies are allowed to do certain specific checks, like drug testing, but with few exceptions, they are not allowed to ask broad questions about your health.

Now, I'm going to assume that there is some special case that allows the company to ask this. The worst case, then, is that they could sue you if your condition wound up affecting them adversely (e.g. you have a breakdown in front of a potential client, which causes the company to lose the deal). A more likely outcome is that this issue would become a convenient excuse to fire you if you ever pissed someone off.

*wishes AskMe had the ability for anonymous follow-ups...*
posted by mkultra at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2004

"Before making an offer of employment, an employer may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be asked about their ability to perform job functions. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all entering employees in the same job category. Medical examinations of employees must be job-related and consistent with business necessity."

Not that this gives you a course of action. However, *if* the form is clearly asking for information they're not entitled to, consider that as writing on the wall. Employers who are unconcerned about your pre-employment rights are only going to get more abusive once you're depending on them for rent/mortgage money.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2004

anecdotally, i know people (lawyers) who were asked not-allowed-under-EEOC questions (generally, "so are you planning to be pregnant, ever?") at the shortlist stage of interviews who declined to answer and were still offered jobs. is there a way you can avoid returning the form before the interview?

of course, if you're not american, that may not even be a useful anecdote.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:55 AM on October 29, 2004

I think the asker wouldn't be asking if he/she was outside the US--it wouldn't be an issue bec. you guys don't depend on employer-provided healthcare.
posted by amberglow at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2004

BTW, quick aside- I'm pretty sure that even things like drug testing are only allowed as part a "condition of hire" in an offer letter. In other words, the employer has to have made their decision to hire before asking.
posted by mkultra at 10:33 AM on October 29, 2004

Well, if he doesnt disclose then needs accomodations under the Disabilities act, he's out of luck.

On the other hand, I know so many flipping people on antidepressants I would be willing to bet that at least one person handling his paperwork would be on an AD.
posted by konolia at 10:34 AM on October 29, 2004

My advice for my patients: Don't disclose. It's none of their business and privacy laws protect you.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:36 AM on October 29, 2004

I'm not sure that the issue is health insurance related at all, amberglow.

I'd say the worst thing that can happen, and indeed, a thing that's very likely to happen, is that if they discover you lied during the application process, they can fire you for it. Of course, if the question itself violates some sort of employment law in your jurisdiction you can fight the dismissal or sue for compensation on the grounds that they shouldn't have asked you in the first place, but you know, lawyers, lawsuits, ugh.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:00 AM on October 29, 2004

anon, listen very carefully: please, please, please, do not listen to people who have no idea what they're talking about. nakedcodemonkey's response is at least factually accurate with its link to the EEOC's general position on this issue. But even then, the question is an extremely difficult one to answer. There are different standards depending on where you stand in the employment relationship: pre-offer, post-conditional offer, or regular employee. If you really want to get closest on your own, read the EEOC's "Enforcement Guidance on Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)" (as you'll see, it's very lengthy -- suggesting that the simple statement supplied by nakedcodemonkey isn't terribly useful.

I am an employment lawyer, and have been for 10 years. I do this kind of stuff day in and day out, including EEOC claims based on these exact issues. I'm not going to address the specifics of your question, because I don't want to be giving out legal advice on the internet. Furthermore, no definitive answer can be given because much will depend on the job for which you're applying. But I will give you some practical advice: every answer in this thread so far is, to a greater or lesser degree, inaccurate.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2004

posted by anathema at 12:14 PM on October 29, 2004

All the advice given in this thread is necessarily inaccurate because we don't have enough info.

If you live in the UK, I would say declare it: I do, and have never suffered any disbenefit for it (same condition, tho cyclical and currently reasonably healthy & non-medicated). Reason being, you may need time off, if only for appointments, and sick leave. You would not want to add to your anxieties and triggers by having to CYA with fibs. Any employer that doesn't get it I wouldn't want to work for, either, tbh.

Hint for future anonymous's - tell us where you live (indeed this would be useful in many non-anonymous's, too). I promise never to answer questions on the placement of apostrophe's.
posted by dash_slot- at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2004

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