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Interviews: Can Employer Ask About My Health?

Dear J.T. & Dale: My daughter recently had surgery for thyroid cancer, and now has to start looking for a job to help support her and her children. The scar on her neck is very large. Everywhere she goes, everyone stares at it. She is concerned about interviews. Does the employer have any rights to ask about her health? — Barbara J.T.: No, companies cannot, by law, ask about her health. However, if she cannot physically do the job, she needs to be honest with herself and them — taking a job you know you can't do can lead to termination. Dale: But the worst thing she can do is leave interviewers wondering about her health. No manager wants to train a new employee who is going to have frequent absences. J.T.: So, if she can cover the scar with a turtleneck or scarf, I think that would help — it would help avoid the issue during the interview and help your daughter feel less self-conscious. If not, she can voluntarily say, "I had surgery, and everything is fine — I just ended up with some scarring." Dale: Exactly. Interviewers usually assume the worst. Not because they're bad people, but because their first objective is to avoid a "bad hire," which is anyone they hire and then end up having to fire, or who — worse yet — can't do the job but can't be fired. So, getting back to your daughter, if the scar is visible, employers can't ask, but she can tell. With a bit of rehearsal, she can not only declare victory over her health problems, but do so in a way that says something about her character: She is determined, a fighter and, translating that into workplace terms, someone who will overcome obstacles to get the job done. J.T.: Moreover, by answering the questions in interviewers' minds, she's proving that she's proactive, demonstrating to them that she cares about what HR is thinking, and is willing to address their concerns. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
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