TLDR; The ADA protects both existing employees and job applicants, and there are crucial questions you should ask about the company’s work model, health insurance costs/coverage, and sick leave policies before accepting any job offers.
As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains in its resource on job applicants and the ADA, you are not required to notify potential employers of any need for reasonable accommodations during the application or interview process. Some applicants ask about the organization’s disability accommodations early on, some wait until they understand more about the nature of the job duties and work environment, and some wait until they have a job offer in hand before requesting accommodations.
So, if you’re not required to disclose your disability prior to receiving a job offer, why would an applicant ask questions about reasonable accommodations during an interview? An article on disability disclosures from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides a few examples of instances when accommodations may be necessary for the job-seeker to successfully complete part of the hiring process, such as filling out the online application or taking a pre-employment test.
Another reason why you might choose to ask about accommodations during an interview is to understand how inclusive the company truly is when it comes to employees with disabilities. According to a 2018 report on disability inclusivity from Accenture, Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), companies with exceptional track records of disability inclusivity are not only more innovative and productive but they also tend to have better work environments for employees overall.
urthermore, a 2018 research brief from the ADA National Network highlights why ADA protections alone might not be sufficient for employees with disabilities: “Individuals often have to exercise their rights under the law, but are less likely to do so in rigid workplace environments that do not allow for evolving work duties, flexible scheduling, or shared responsibilities of work tasks.”
To avoid the pitfalls of joining a company with a rigid work environment, it may be worthwhile to ask a hiring manager about what their organization offers in regards to disability accommodations, policies and even insurance options during early-stage interviews.
But what questions should you ask? Here are three of the most important ones to consider for your next interview:
A company’s “work model” refers to how they determine when and where employees perform their job duties. Pre-pandemic, the in-office, 9-5 work model was the norm for countless companies. Nowadays, more and more companies are offering flexible work options for employees, such as 100% remote or hybrid work schedules, the latter of which involves some in-office work and some telecommuting.
Unsurprisingly, people with disabilities often benefit from flexible work schedules and/or the ability to work from home, according to researchers in a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation in November 2020. After all, telecommuting eliminates the need to drive to and from an office, participate in meetings without captions, transport medical equipment or medications, or miss a full day of work for a medical appointment, just to name some of the many advantages of remote work for people with disabilities.
Asking about a company’s flexible work options during the interview stages is something every applicant should do - regardless of disability status - because some recruiters and companies have reportedly misled applicants about jobs being “remote” when, in reality, they’re following a hybrid or fully in-office work model.
Health insurance is an important consideration for any job applicant, but especially for those of us with disabilities, since we typically pay more for health care than the average person without a disability.
A “summary of benefits and coverage” (SBC) is an overview of what a health insurance plan covers and what it costs. The SBCs will help you not only understand whether disability-related conditions are covered but also how much you’ll be expected to pay out-of-pocket for medical services, prescriptions, and equipment.
Depending on how lengthy the hiring process will be, you might not want to ask for specifics about employer-provided health plans in your very first interview, but it’s nevertheless something you should thoroughly review before accepting a job offer.
Real and/or perceived stigmas against disabilities - especially “hidden” ones like chronic pain or fatigue - sometimes deter job applicants from diving deeper into companies’ policies pertaining to sick leave until after they’re hired. However, if there’s a chance you’ll need to take time off from work for disability-related reasons, your best bet would be to ask about sick leave during the interview stages so you’ll know early on how flexible this employer may be (especially if you do not have an official diagnosis for your disability and may need to provide a medical professional’s verification later on).
➡️ How many days of sick leave do employees receive each year? Paid or unpaid?
➡️ Do unused sick days roll over into the next year?
➡️ Is there a general “paid time off” allowance for employees or is sick leave separate from vacation time, bereavement leave, etc.?
To learn more about the paid and unpaid sick leave laws by state, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has an excellent resource on family and medical leave laws.
So far, we’ve covered the most important general questions you should ask a hiring manager during an interview. Additional questions you might consider asking (depending on your disability, comfort level when sharing personal information and how far along you are in the interview process) include:
➡️ I have a service animal. Would my workspace be large enough to accommodate him/her?
➡️ I need to [take medication, eat a snack, drink water, etc.] every [30 minutes, 1-2 hours, etc.] for health reasons. Should I do this at my desk or in the break room?*
*Alternatively, you could simply inform the potential employer that you will need to do something every X hours for disability-related reasons. If your medication needs to be refrigerated (e.g., insulin), you should ask about access to a refrigerator as well.
➡️ I use a [disability-related tech device that involves sound, such as a screen reader, health monitor, talk-to-text software, etc.]. Is there a quiet space where I may perform my job duties or may I use headphones?