Are You Able to Perform This Job’s Duties with or without Reasonable Accommodations?

Why Employers Ask It

While federal law generally prohibits employers from inquiring about the existence or nature of a disability during the interview process, hiring officials maintain the legal right — not to mention the professional obligation — to ensure interviewees possess the physical abilities needed to perform the duties of desired jobs. More specifically, employers can legally ask whether the interviewee can perform the job duties with or without reasonable accommodations. However, hiring personnel may only use the potentially tricky interview question if the applicant possesses a visibly apparent handicap or voluntarily discloses the existence of a disability. Furthermore, the question only applies to situations in which the disability might hinder the ability of the interviewee to perform a specific task related to the job.

How To Answer

When to Disclose Disabilities or Special Needs
Acknowledging the need for personalized accommodations at the workplace may seem like a risky undertaking, as job seekers typically want to focus on providing solutions for the employer rather than creating new issues. However, though not required by law, proactively disclosing a job-related disability during the interview process frequently proves beneficial for all parties involved. Applicants who admit to needing reasonable accommodations often ease the pressure on interviewers, many of whom either lack an understanding of local and national hiring laws or dread initiating discussions about potentially delicate subjects like disabilities. In general, job seekers should only reveal the existence of a disability when the condition would require the employer to make an otherwise unnecessary adjustment, such as purchasing specialized software or accommodating the unique scheduling needs of the disabled worker. Even if special accommodations prove unnecessary, interviewees with visibly obvious disabilities may still want to address and explain the issue in order to dispel any preconceived notions or concerns the employer might have.

Refocus Responses on Abilities
When discussing disability at an interview, keep the conversation focused on the doable aspects of the job and avoid dwelling on the tasks requiring special accommodations. Demonstrate initiative, preparedness, and problem solving skills by not only disclosing the disability, but also suggesting feasible accommodations the employer could make. Most importantly, reframe the discussion to emphasize personal abilities over limitations. For example, a candidate describing the job-related effects of a back injury at an interview should highlight the ability to stand for X amount of time rather than bring up the inability to work on foot for long periods. Reframing the conversation in this way makes the interview more positive by drawing attention to the relevant capabilities of the applicant instead of the drawbacks of the disability. Prior to interviewing, research the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws which protect job seekers from discriminatory hiring practices.

One user comment:

  1. Jermaine

    Most of the comments above seem to be people replying to this information as though the person who wrote it is offering them a job. Silas, however, brought up a good point about being hearing impaired. It gives a good example of what an employer would need to know before taking the interview any further.

    A good example would also be someone who has back/neck problems that are made worse by sitting and/or standing for extended periods of time. In the case of a cashier, the employer should reasonably be able to provide a seat of some kind for a person who can’t remain standing for a long time. For someone who cannot stand OR sit for long periods of time, a lot of employers may find that something that would be unreasonable to accommodate, as they would likely have to give the person frequent breaks (and most hourly wage places that I’ve experienced count breaks as still being on the clock). Most employers would not think it reasonable to pay someone for a full day of work when they had to take a great deal of on the clock breaks to recuperate throughout the work day, so prepare for that.

    Many employers think that it is unreasonable to have an employee with a disability that requires them to take more than a couple of days off work each month. Most employers I’ve had experience with even have rules that they won’t tolerate more than one day of missed work a month unless in extreme cases, like an emergency that required immediate medical attention. Any such emergency would have to be proven with a letter from a doctor, and in cases like with AT&T, you have to take forms to your doctor to fill out stating what the nature of the emergency was so that AT&T can determine whether or not they will excuse your absence. Be prepared to let an employer know if you require days off for things like, for example, extreme and/or frequent migraines that would prevent you from doing any work while the migraine is affecting you. In my case, migraines may last for 2-4 days, but could be only for half of the day. Still, while it’s going on, I’m pretty useless even around the house.

    Think about what limitations you have for your specific disability and consider what you would definitely need as an accommodation from the employer in order to perform at your best. As this article states, do not try to hide what limitations you have, as bringing them up after being hired and expecting the employer to provide for those limitations will likely not work to your benefit. Let the employer know everything that they need to know beforehand, and if you are denied employment and are positive that the reason is because of your disability, consider seeking legal advice so that you know for sure if your denied accommodations were reasonable or not, as your rights may have been violated if they were reasonable.


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