Dear Matt: I previously received advice to not disclose a permanent injury to potential employers because it would raise red flags. The injury is permanent, but not covered under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). This has produced gaps in employment which are hard to explain without disclosing the true reason behind the gaps. My employment options are limited due to work restrictions being imposed for the rest of my life. When potential employer's run a background check, can they gain access to old workman's compensation claims? How should I explain this in a résumé or in an interview?
Matt: This is certainly a tricky situation. As David Rosewell, a senior recruiter with Cargill, Inc., points out, employers are supposed to be making hiring decisions based on job-related factors, and some of those factors may require certain physical abilities. If one of the basic requirements for a job is the ability to lift 40 pounds regularly throughout the day, the employer is justified in declining a candidate who cannot do so. However, candidates cannot be disqualified for a job if "reasonable accommodations" can be made so that they can do the job. For example, declining someone who has a vision impairment would not be appropriate if special software can be installed to accommodate it.
Rosewell says employers - at least the large ones - are going to be looking at one's criminal background history, not workers' compensation claims. Most employers know that digging for medical history could open the employer up to discrimination lawsuits if it became known they were doing this.
In relation to your job search, yes there is hope - employers hire people with disabilities every day. Yes, significant gap in your work history will prompt questions by potential employers, but there are ways to relay this information and still show you're a viable candidate for the job. When applying for jobs, read each job description carefully to ensure that you meet or exceed all of the requirements. If so, indicate in a cover letter (not the résumé) that the gap was due to a medical condition, but that you are now fully capable of meeting the requirements of the job for which you are applying. There's no need to use the words "permanent" or "injury" at any point. The nature of your medical condition is irrelevant unless it directly prevents you from doing the job, says Rosewell.
"It will be much better to explain the employment gap up front rather than have the employer make assumptions about it," says Rosewell.
A disability may disqualify you for some careers, but work with a job counselor to identify your skills and occupations that will best leverage them.
For more information on the definition of disability according to ADA, go to www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm#12102.
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