Should a firefighter candidate disclose ADHD?
August 4, 2009 7:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm a candidate for my local fire department. It's a paid position. Should I disclose my ADHD?

I was recently diagnosed with ADHD. I had been taking Adderall XR and just switched over to Vyvanse.
Will my diagnosis or medication keep me from being hired as a firefighter?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wow, that is a tough one? Does the application ask a question that would be specific to this?

I can't imagine it would keep you from being a firefighter...I am a special education teacher and have worked with students who have ADHD and ADD for many, many years...often, it can affect daily activity, but it can also be completely controlled. I would say honesty is the best policy unless there is no mention of it on the application. You would likely have an opportunity to explain that it is controlled and your doctor can provide a statement as well if necessary. Best wishes.
posted by mdn31 at 7:32 AM on August 4, 2009

It may or may not keep you from being hired. The rules for public safety employees on relatively mild conditions like AHDC and the relative mild psychoactives prescribed to treat them drugs are quite varied. As a general matters, the "red lines" for fitness standards can be quite surprising: for years (and maybe still) the Navy would deny you admission to Annapolis if you'd had RK vision correction surgery!

Disclosure can't likely be avoided. Almost certainly at some point in the hiring process you will face a comprehensive physical and psychological assessment, one component of which will be a full medical history submission by you -- made under penalty of perjury.
posted by MattD at 7:37 AM on August 4, 2009

I know nothing about being a firefighter or what kinds of drugs they might find objectionable, but I do have ADD. I think that the most important thing is to be up front with them, which includes being prepared for their questions. You know how employment forms list "reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities, but that if you can't perform the "essential functions" of the job you might not be able to do it? Think about everything you can think of with regards to the life of a firefighter (talk to one, if you can) and then talk to your doctor about the potential effects of medication so you can answer their questions. Would you be able to keep on schedule with your medication when you're on a weird sleep schedule? Would the medication have any impact on your ability to wake up and be ready at a moment's notice? What happens if you miss it -- would you still be able to function well in a crisis situation? (I'm not too bad with or without medication, but I find that I actually work quite well in a crisis either way.)

This is probably lots of overkill, and I would still use caution -- like, don't bring it up until you need to, though you should of course be honest -- but it's always better to be prepared.
posted by Madamina at 7:38 AM on August 4, 2009

I can't imagine you not eventually having to disclose any medications you are taking and what they are for, especially for a public safety position.

As for whether ADHD would keep you from getting the position...Who knows? Totally depends on the department. I can't imagine it would, unless it's very severe.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:45 AM on August 4, 2009

After many years in the school system I know that ADHD is considered a medical diagnosis. If the application ask for medical background/information I would be up front and disclose this information.
posted by pamspanda at 7:46 AM on August 4, 2009

Some conditions can be disqualifiers for public safety positions (police, firefighter, EMT, etc.), and it varies from place to place. I think the general rule-of-thumb on things like this is: If you're asked directly, you must disclose; if you're not asked, don't tell.
posted by amyms at 7:55 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you don't need any specific accommodations, you do not need to disclose. If you qualify in all ways for the position and this disqualifies you, they are breaking the law.

I used to work at a med school where we did a project that helped disabled people get into medical professions. Part of my job was to go around and interview successful medical professionals with disabilities such as blind doctors, deaf nurses, etc.

One thing I noticed was that I came across and interviewed several EMTs and emergency room workers who had ADHD. They all said that ADHD and their highly stimulating jobs were a perfect match. The EMTs would talk about how they worked on keeping their focus during their down times when they had to do paperwork or whatever, but during calls/emergencies, the pace of the emergency often was very much suited for their energy level and need for multiple stimuli around them. I'm not saying this as well as they did so I hope it makes sense. But it appeared to me that ADHD was VERY prevalent (even if possibly undiagnosed) in these types of jobs. They presented it as a value added aspect of their personality that made them especially good at what they did.
posted by Bueller at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

You really only need to disclose it if your application or interview questions you about it. In a drug screen, the only things reported are illicit substances.

If it were me, I would not disclose unless asked -- this isn't the kind of thing that will adversely affect your job performance, unless your meds are having an effect on your physical health.
posted by unlucky.lisp at 10:28 AM on August 4, 2009

Just a note, in most cases, an interviewer is not allowed legally to ask about your medical health. There are exceptions (and firefighter might be one of them, I'm not sure...I'd check) But the medical questions would have to come up in that context. For example, if you are required to get a physical exam or if you are required to fill out a medical form of some sort. In no circumstances should you just be asked cold in an interview if you have any disabilities. You may be asked, though, if you have any need for accommodations, and then it is up to you to disclose. An interviewer may ask about whether anything on a previous medical exam/form.

By the way, these rules are commonly violated, and then you have to decide whether you just want to answer the questions as best you can and try to get the job, or you can call them on it and turn them in to the EEOC or some such and probably never get the job. Its a tricky one. But probably the best thing you can do is be prepared to talk about it only if you can't get out of talking about it and be prepared to talk about it in a neutral or positive light.
posted by Bueller at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2009

Like others have suggested, I would never volunteer this information unless specifically asked.

Also, the large majority of ADHD meds will show up in the results of a drug screen. You will need to take all of your prescriptions with you to the pre-employment screening facility. A letter from the doctor wouldn't hurt, either, explaining the medical necessity. Anyway, the person administering the drug test will make a note of your prescriptions so you won't "fail" the test due to stimulants showing up in the results.
posted by JibberJabber at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2009

Both of my brothers have ADD/ADHD, and both of them are firefighters. Neither is currently on medication, but both have taken medication in the past. As to whether the diagnosis and medications will prevent you from getting the specific job you've applied for, we (the Internet) can't really say. I would take amyms's approach: If asked, disclose. If not, don't mention it.
posted by geeky at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2009

The question nobody seems to be asking is: will your ADHD get in the way of responding to a fire? If there is any reasonable chance it will, then you not only have a moral (and probably legal, though IANAL) responsibility to disclose it, you might want to reconsider applying. ADHD can mean a lot of things, but if it means that you are not completely focused on what needs doing in a fire, you could wind up dying or getting someone killed.
posted by musofire at 1:11 PM on August 4, 2009

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