When interviewing candidates for a job, you might encounter applicants who ask about health conditions. These questions could be a way to investigate either the job’s physical requirements or reasonable accommodations for a personal health issue. They could also be a bridge to learning more about your company’s health insurance plan.
Regardless of why the applicant is asking, you need to be informative while also keeping in mind the subject’s touchy nature (and the related potential legal ramifications under the Americans with Disabilities Act). It’s best not to ask any questions of your own, but there are a few general strategies you can lean on in this type of situation.
Don’t Go Alone
When an applicant broaches the topic of health conditions, consider asking an associate (or human resources expert, if you have one) to join you in the room for the conversation. This colleague won’t be as wrapped up in vetting the applicant for a specific position and can be a witness to your adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
You don’t want to give applicants the impression that their questions about health could affect your decision-making process. Employment discrimination lawsuits are frequently based on health issues, so you need to remain as legitimate, honest and open as possible.
Some jobs have physical requirements. You may legally require that an employee be able to lift a certain weight to qualify for the job: For example, a warehouse worker will frequently need to lift 50-pound boxes to fulfill job duties, so including that requirement in the job description is important.
Be careful, however, not to change the job description to include such requirements after you start looking for a candidate; editing the job description after your search has begun could appear to be discriminatory. Bottom line: In cases of open positions with physical needs, make absolutely sure they’re clear and set in stone before you make contact with any prospects.
Employees also have the right to request that an employer make reasonable accommodations for a limiting condition. For example, an employee with a back problem may require that the employer provide ergonomically correct chairs for the workplace. If a candidate starts asking such questions, express your willingness to meet their needs, but once again, don’t ask any questions about a pre-existing condition. This is a legal tightrope, and you don’t want to appear to have any discriminatory inclinations.
Your Health Plan Offerings
Finally, the employee might ask about health conditions in reference to the health insurance plan you offer. All health insurance plans differ, and an employee with a serious health condition might find that a new employer’s health plan only offers limited coverage respective to their specific issue. There’s certainly nothing wrong with giving an applicant the list of health insurance options you’re currently offering your employees. However, you might point out that, while you don’t intend to make any serious changes to the options, as an employer you do reserve the right to adjust your current plan or select new plans on an annual basis.
A discussion about health conditions during a job interview can be very helpful for you and the applicant in coming to a mutual decision about employment. However, this is a tricky topic that could potentially lead to an unnecessary legal problem. Refraining from asking your own questions, as well as asking another team member to sit in on the interview, are excellent ways to navigate this situation should a question about health arise.
Dylan Murray has an MBA from San Diego State University and a bachelor’s degree in communication from Boston University. He is a licensed insurance agent in California, but he works as a professional researcher and writer reporting on business trends in estate law, insurance and private security. Dylan has worked as a script analyst with the Sundance Institute and the Scriptwriters Network in Los Angeles. He lives in San Diego, California, and Marseille, France.