I'm not disabled. I just occasionally feel incapacitated by sadness.
January 10, 2015 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Is there any possible benefit to indicate that I have a disability when applying for jobs when my disability is major depression?

I have major depression and have been taking antidepressants for maybe 8 years. I've even started attempting therapy and since the new year, I've been running every other day (/humblebrag). I've been applying for a lot of jobs lately and job applications frequently ask if I have a disability. The list of example disabilities almost always includes major depression. I always either check the box indicating that I do not have a disability or the box saying that I would prefer not to disclose that I have a disability. Am I doing it wrong?

I don't think of myself as disabled. Depression is just a thing I deal with. Everyone has things they deal with. It's just that my thing is my brain's strong inclination towards self-destruction. Some people often feel cold. I'm often feel sad.

I also thought the main reason why job applications ask whether you have a disability is to ascertain whether you as a potential employee would need accommodations to do your job. I don't. I mean, I wouldn't mind working for an employer who wants their employees to take care of themselves. I am definitely more interested in employers who value flexibility, work-life balance, etc. But I see those things as more like perks, not accommodations. I rarely take mental health days (maybe 1x in the last year and not if it will affect my colleagues). I struggle at work sometimes when I feel really overwhelmed or sad or anxious, but some people struggle at work when they're sick, too. I don't get physically sick often but I do get mentally sick and I try to deal with it.

I'm obviously concerned that an employer could see that I checked the box for having a disability and not want to hire me as a result but I am more concerned with the psychic effects (and I don't think I would want to work for that employer anyway). I worry that by claiming a disability, I'm taking something from someone with a real disability. I'm concerned that if the info was out there that the new person kat518 has a disability, I would get judged, then judged more harshly if/when they learn my specific disability.

That said, I feel like it might be nice to have it out there, in a way, to know that I made it known and got hired (or didn't) anyway.

Should I check the box for disability because of major depression? What am I missing or not understanding?
posted by kat518 to Work & Money (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Employers have many ways to decline to hire someone, legally or illegally. "She/he didn't seem to be a good fit" is a statement that is almost entirely unattributable to bias or discrimination.

I don't know why any employer would want to hire you because you are depressed. I think most employers wouldn't care, because it sounds like you are handling it reasonably well. I think there are a small, but significant, number of employers that would avoid hiring you if you explicitly state your depression.

As a result, your expected outcome from declaring disability is negative (there's a chance it hurts you and no chance it helps you). If you feel compelled to do so for some reason (for instance, to pursue some sort of accommodation), you can always do it after hire.

I'm a pragmatist. I'm deliberately not answering any of your comments about whether it's "right" or "wrong" to declare the depression as a disability because I don't know why you'd want to do it in the first place.
posted by saeculorum at 6:53 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

You don't indicate that your illness makes you unable to perform the job without accommodations, so I'm not sure why you would say yes to that question. You have a chronic illness, which you manage. You don't have a disability.
posted by headnsouth at 7:08 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm confused, because I thought that employers couldn't legally ask if someone has a disability during the hiring process (against ADA)...?
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:27 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As someone who suffers from depression, and as someone who occasionally hires people, I would be fine if you indicated this as something I had to work around. I can see why someone would want to hide this, but honestly, I'm usually more upset when people lie to me than tell me about what I have to deal with. Bonus of hiring you? I don't have to explain my depression, nor explain the tasks I find super hard. You and I can have a huddle and decide who is best to do that task.

On top of this, you can actually be honest if you have some sort of episode. I once nearly lost a job because I got to the point where I just didn't care about anything any more. I called in with the flu when what was really happening was a major depressive episode. After a week I was told I needed to see a doctor or go on disability. I have a cool doctor, so he wrote up I'd been sick when I told him what had been going on.

I'm an honesty is the best policy type of guy. I say do this on everything.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:33 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

three_red_balloons has the same question as myself. You can ask "are you able to lift 30 pounds?" or whatever, but since it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability, I'd be as shocked to see a general question like that as I'd be to see a question about race. Unless you're not in the US, in which case the law could be entirely different.
posted by colin_l at 7:34 PM on January 10, 2015

And for what it's worth, I have depression-related accommodations at my job, around things like being able to work from home when needed and an expectation of more-common-than-most doctor appointments. But that all got formalized years after I started the job, not as a pre-hiring thing.
posted by colin_l at 7:36 PM on January 10, 2015

Best answer: If you mark that you have depression but need no accommodations, and the place is large enough to have an HR department, very likely no one but the HR person who saw the form would ever know and that HR person would do their job. 99% chance that it doesn't matter either way. There's a 1% (or higher, total guess) chance that the HR person will NOT do their job, and it will lead to a bad result such as not getting hired. But, then that's a good sign that you wouldn't want to work there.

The odds of it mattering one way or the other are low, so you should go with whatever makes you feel the most satisfied personally. As someone with depression about as debilitating as yours, I wouldn't like the uncertainty from marking something out of the ordinary, so I would personally not put it down.
posted by JZig at 8:34 PM on January 10, 2015

I reckon don't tell your employer anything they don't need to know, unless it would help you. This can't help you, so don't tell them.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:43 PM on January 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

If you don't require special accommodations, I'm not sure why you would need to disclose that. If it's something you want them knowing and it's something you want to be open about, you could, but personally when applying for jobs, I'd leave that off in case it did adversely affect the decision-making process. If you eventually did need special accommodations, the fact that you didn't check the box at the outset doesn't mean they could refuse them. I'm also wondering if these forms have you disclose what the disability is -- sometimes the unknown looks worse than the known.

Congrats on the exercise regime and starting therapy. Starting is the hardest part -- keep up the good work!
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:46 PM on January 10, 2015

For these purposes - and I could be completely wrong - I would answer based on a legal definition of disability. As in, I went to federal court and was ruled disabled and now collect disability. Beyond that, I wouldn't offer more to a prospective employer.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 8:59 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I see this question most frequently on applications for positions with big companies and government agencies (yes, I'm in the U.S.). It's almost always after questions about race and occasionally in the same section as questions about veteran status. So I am guessing that this is all just for demographic purposes and that all of the info just goes into a system so if I ended up getting an offer and accepting a position, something in a ticker somewhere would just add a digit (company previously had 4 employees with disabilities, now there are 5).

I realize employers can decline to hire for legal or illegal reasons and just say "not a good fit." If they don't want to hire someone with major depression, I'm honestly probably not a good fit do it would be better for both of us if I work somewhere else. Though that's not very comforting when I get rejected.
posted by kat518 at 9:14 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Our hiring process has a couple of points where applicants are asked if they will need accommodations; there is no reason to disclose a disability for which you do not need accommodations, in my understanding.

But this is a highly place-specific question and you will probably get much more useful answers if you clarify where you are.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:15 PM on January 10, 2015

Response by poster: Also, not to thread-sit but from what I understand, employers can *ask* questions about race, disability, etc. They just can't make hiring decisions based on that info. People frequently don't ask to avoid the appearance that they didn't hire for one reason or another but I think it's legal to ask.
posted by kat518 at 9:19 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure hiring managers look at those forms. Those forms are completely optional -- they ask for their own statistics or to report to the government or something -- and I often decline to fill them out. I think HR collects them, but I would be surprised if hiring managers really look at them.

I think if you have concerns about your workplace being flexible when you're having a rough time or the place having a positive culture, that will be something you'll suss out as you interview with them, not by checking a box on a form. I see your point when you say, "If they don't want to hire someone with major depression, I'm probably not a good fit," but I'm saying you may not want to assume that box is being noticed. When you interview, ask about workplace culture, ask about work-life balance, ask what a typical day is like, go to the office to interview and get shown around. Try to interview with not just your prospective boss, but other people in the organization. Or say you'd like to be introduced to the people you'd be working with and have a chance to meet them. See what people are like, what sort of vibe you get, and ask them how they like their jobs. In whatever way being depressed may or may not affect your job, try to get a sense of how that would work at your new office if you think it may be an issue.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:24 PM on January 10, 2015

Best answer: Federal agencies and some federal contractors have special incentives and programs to hire individuals with disabilities. You need proof of disability, for example, from your doctor. I don't personally know too much more than that, but you can probably find out more from the OPM website and other federal sites. Here's some information from the EEOC site for instance: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/initiatives/lead/abc_applicants_with_disabilities.cfm

In addition to reading up on that, perhaps also ask your doctor and/or therapist to see if he/she has any knowledge of these particular hiring processes.
posted by NikitaNikita at 11:02 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unless it is a higher education job, that is, software engineer, etc. I would check the box "no."

If it is a job at a big box store (aka Best Buy or Walmart), then you are okay.

They really don't care about your personal life. They only want to know if you have committed a crime, see? And you haven't. So please stop worrying.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:06 PM on January 10, 2015

posted by radioamy at 11:19 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Before it became illegal to ask this question during recruitment in the UK, I got burned for answering it in the affirmative, so I would say no.

The World Health Organisation defines disability as a physical or psychological problem that stops someone from performing activities within the range that is considered normal for a human being. So if the depression is not seriously affecting how you function, I think you can truthfully answer it in the negative. IANAL.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:06 AM on January 11, 2015

Also, not to thread-sit but from what I understand, employers can *ask* questions about race, disability, etc. They just can't make hiring decisions based on that info. People frequently don't ask to avoid the appearance that they didn't hire for one reason or another but I think it's legal to ask.

You're wrong, at least according to the US Government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's discussion of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The pertinent text from their FAQ:

Can an Employer Require Medical Examinations or Ask Questions About a Disability?

"If you are applying for a job, an employer cannot ask you if you are disabled or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. An employer can ask if you can perform the duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer can also ask you to describe or to demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodation, you will perform the duties of the job.

An employer cannot require you to take a medical examination before you are offered a job. Following a job offer, an employer can condition the offer on your passing a required medical examination, but only if all entering employees for that job category have to take the examination. However, an employer cannot reject you because of information about your disability revealed by the medical examination, unless the reasons for rejection are job-related and necessary for the conduct of the employer's business. The employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your disability if you can perform the essential functions of the job with an accommodation.

Once you have been hired and started work, your employer cannot require that you take a medical examination or ask questions about your disability unless they are related to your job and necessary for the conduct of your employer's business. Your employer may conduct voluntary medical examinations that are part of an employee health program, and may provide medical information required by State workers' compensation laws to the agencies that administer such laws.

The results of all medical examinations must be kept confidential, and maintained in separate medical files."

So my advice? Leave those parts blank. Don't answer them.
posted by inturnaround at 5:25 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I came in to say what inturnaround just wrote. I am frequently involved in hiring (at a large non-profit) and my understanding is that we are not allowed to raise any question about medical fitness for a position, disability, or general health even if the candidate self-discloses in the application process. This is a non-profit, private educational institution (university) bound by many federal-level rules specific to our reliance on various streams of public funding. So I concur you are wrong, and if you are being asked to self-report a disability and requirement for accommodation in a way that would be personally identifiable to the person or committee that would be interviewing and hiring you, something is very strange about that.

I cannot imagine you are under any legal compulsion to disclose any medical information about yourself in any hiring process. I agree: don't answer any such questions. Since you are confident you don't require any accommodations to do any jobs for which you are applying, and that is true right now as you are applying, you are free to say you need no accommodations. But no application should be asking about your specific disability in any way that can be tied to your name and application file.
posted by spitbull at 5:36 AM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here is an EEOC fact sheet on disabilities and the application process; the short version is that they are only allowed to ask specific questions and you are not required to disclose. (And another fact sheet I saw referenced research showing that voluntary disclosure tends to result in not getting hired, so there is a practical reason to not do so as well.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:48 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm confused, because I thought that employers couldn't legally ask if someone has a disability during the hiring process (against ADA)...?

Nope. This question is part of EVERY job application when you submit your resume. It's right there with your Sex, Race and status as a Veteran.

Only respond in the affirmative if you require accommodation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:33 AM on January 11, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all for your thoughtful answers. To be clear, the questions are usually listed with three answers: yes, no, and decline to answer. As I mentioned, I almost always select no or decline to answer. There's no option to skip the question entirely and submit a complete job application.

I don't know what to tell those who continue to state that employers cannot legally ask these questions. Regardless of whether they can or not, they do, or at least they do at a lot of organizations where I am seeking employment.
posted by kat518 at 7:36 AM on January 11, 2015

Best answer: The disability question probably comes in the same section of the questionnaire where you're asked to disclose your gender and your race.

At one company I know this goes to the diversity committee and is used for reporting. Keep in mind that the stats will identify you as disabled, because a stat will say something like "this month we hired a disabled person! ". Well if this month they only hired you, guess who is disabled.

The potential upside to disclosure is being able to take advantage of the benefit of a "diversity sprinkle". Some US government contracts are preferentially awarded to diverse workforces. A large company I knew had HR scrutinize performance reviews from a diversity perspective, which could result in improved compensation for those declared as diverse to avoid the perception of discrimination. As for those companies with diversity action plans, being part of the diverse workforce can help protect your job in case of layoff or help get you promoted if they want to do diversity in management.

Personally I would err on the side of disclosure in a large company. You need accommodation for doctors appointments at least. If you get discriminated against in the hiring process then quite likely it's somewhere you don't want to work. Better to find out early than to find out when you're sick.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:00 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

There is no real ambiguity. Others linked it above but here's the EEOC guidelines:

Discussing Disability with the Potential Employer

The ADA prohibits employers from asking questions that are likely to reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer (i.e., the pre-offer period). This prohibition covers written questionnaires and inquiries made during interviews, as well as medical examinations. However, such questions and medical examinations are permitted after extending a job offer but before the individual begins work (i.e., the post-offer period).

9. What are examples of questions that an employer cannot ask on an application or during an interview?

Examples of prohibited questions during the pre-offer period include:

Do you have a heart condition? Do you have asthma or any other difficulties breathing?
Do you have a disability which would interfere with your ability to perform the job?
How many days were you sick last year?
Have you ever filed for workers' compensation? Have you ever been injured on the job?
Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?
What prescription drugs are you currently taking?
10. May the employer ask me these questions after making a job offer?

Yes. An employer can ask all of the questions listed in Question 9, and others that are likely to reveal the existence of a disability, after it extends you a job offer as long as it asks the same questions of other applicants offered the same type of job. In other words, an employer cannot ask such questions only of those who have obvious disabilities. Similarly, an employer may require a medical examination after making a job offer as long as it requires the same medical examination of other applicants offered the same type of job.

11. May an employer ask me whether I will need a reasonable accommodation for the hiring process?

Yes. An employer may tell all applicants what the hiring process involves (for example, an interview, timed written test, or job demonstration), and then ask whether they will need a reasonable accommodation for this process. (See Question 16 for a discussion about employers asking about an applicant's need for reasonable accommodation for the job.)

12. I have an obvious disability. Can an employer ask me medical questions during an interview?

No. Except as explained in Question 15 below, an employer cannot ask questions about an applicant's disability either because it is visible or because the applicant has voluntarily disclosed a hidden disability.
posted by spitbull at 10:34 AM on January 11, 2015

Response by poster: Folks, I asked how I should answer a question. Telling me that the question shouldn't be asked, while possibly true, is not helpful. That said, according to this, "Federal contractors and subcontractors who are covered by the affirmative action requirements of section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 may invite individuals with disabilities to identify themselves on a job application form or by other pre-employment inquiry, to satisfy the section 503 affirmative action requirements. Employers who request such information must observe section 503 requirements regarding the manner in which such information is requested and used, and the procedures for maintaining such information as a separate, confidential record, apart from regular personnel records."

Will mark some helpful answers, thanks all.
posted by kat518 at 11:36 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in the UK, sp I'm covered under the Equality Act, which is the parallel legislation to the ADA (it replaced the Disability Discrimination Act, law fans). I have bipolar disorder and I was nervous about disclosing given the nature of the job I do (high stress, requires consistency of evaluation) to the point that I didn't mention it during my probation in case people thought I couldn't do the job. So I know how you feel.

I do tick the box on forms, partly because I have a disabiling condition, partly because the medication I take has side effects that affect my day to day life. (Also, as far as I'm concerned, if it quadruples your travel insurance, it's srs bznz.) While I don't identify as 'disabled' - aside from med induced weight gain, nobody would know there was anything 'wrong' with me and I am at the point that it is mostly incidental to my life with proper management - it's a chronic condition which I feel employers need to take into consideration for my sake as well as theirs.
posted by mippy at 6:10 AM on January 13, 2015

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