How fully do you need to disclose information about yourself to a prospective employer?
A reader we’re calling Mary posed the question to me after she interviewed for a job via Zoom and was called back for a second interview in person. She wrote that she wants the job, but she is concerned that if she fully discloses health challenges she’s had in the past, it might affect her chances of landing the new job.
This is the point in my response when I feel obliged to disclose I am not an employment lawyer, nor an expert in employment law. But judging from her question, Mary knows these limitations and in posing her question to me was more concerned about how forthcoming she needed to be from an ethical perspective.
“Would it be dishonest not to tell them that I’d gone through some serious health issues in the past?” asked Mary.
If the job for which Mary is applying requires some physical qualifications such as the ability to lift objects of a certain weight and Mary knows she is not capable of meeting these qualifications, she should disclose the limitations to her prospective employer regardless of past illnesses. If the advertisement for the job or job description she might have seen included specific qualifications she knew she didn’t meet, Mary should have considered not applying.
But unless Mary’s health issues pose a danger to her prospective colleagues, it’s not clear to me why it should come up in the process of her job interview.
She raised a slightly different question when Mary said: “I’m worried that if I get sick again and it comes out that I had been sick before that my bosses would be upset that I hadn’t told them that I had been sick in the past.”
Here Mary seems to be concerned she must anticipate and disclose any future event that may have a negative impact on her ability to do the job for which she’s applying. If the health issues she experienced were indeed in the past, it doesn’t seem necessary for Mary to supply a list of everything that may or may not happen to her should she take the job. An employer is unlikely to tell Mary that while the company is financially healthy now, its business might take a nose dive later because, after all, in the early days of the company it was touch and go about whether the company would be able to stay in business.
Many things may happen in the future if Mary is offered and accepts the new job. Her old car might break down on her drive to work one day and she could be late and hold up an important meeting. The company might be purchased and layoffs might ensue. We can contemplate all the possible downsides as applicants and employers. But it’s also possible Mary might thrive in the new position and the company will survive and thrive in spite of any obstacles it faces.
In interviewing for the job, the right thing is for Mary to be honest about her capabilities to do the job and for her interviewers to be honest about the specifics of the job for which she is interviewing.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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