Ask LH: Should I Conceal My Injury From Potential Employers?

Ask LH: Should I Conceal My Injury From Potential Employers?

Hi Lifehacker, I have recently received an injury at work. I won’t go into the details but it will effectively stop me working in my current industry. It is now time for me to try cracking the IT field in Australia. I have received some great advice from some friends who work in IT already. The plan is to gain some unpaid work experience and progress from there.

My concern is how much to reveal to possible mentors/employers. I am typing up a cover letter with my motivations and desires. Do I say I am injured but can work a few hours a day? What’s the best approach? Thanks, Reboot On Other Foot

Workplace injury picture from Shutterstock

Dear ROOF,

Without knowing the nature of your injury, it’s difficult to say whether you should provide full disclosure or not. Is it physically obvious, like using a wheelchair, or something that could potentially be concealed from employers? We suppose it’s a moot point if you can only work a few hours a day; they’re going to need an explanation as to why your work hours are so limited.

The sad fact is that despite our robust anti-discrimination laws, most employers will balk at hiring somebody who has suffered a workplace injury; especially if lengthy compensation was involved. It’s simply too much of a liability. Of course they’d never admit to this, but you can safely bet that an able-bodied contender will usually get the job over someone with a lingering work injury. The fact you have no prior experience only makes their decision easier. Sometimes life sucks.

Ironically, your injury will also make it harder to score unpaid work experience. Getting fresh-faced graduates to work for free is one thing, but people with disabilities is another matter — could you imagine the outcry if the public discovered a company was “exploiting” injured workers in this way? The fact you actively volunteered for the unpaid work would do little to lessen the PR disaster that would ensue.

Subsequently, you might be better off keeping the injury close to your chest to begin with. If your ailments aren’t visible, perhaps pitch your services in terms of time/need to study rather than physical capacity. Just be mindful of outright lying as this could cause legal ramifications further down the track, especially if you suffer another workplace injury.

Basically, most employers should be flexible if they’re not paying you, so keep the explanation simple and hope for the best. Alternately, you could implore your aforementioned IT buddies to assist you in finding employment. Having someone established who is willing to vouch for you can go a long way with potential employers. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I have a slightly-related question – I’ve recently had surgery (3 weeks ago) and my sick certificate still has another 3 weeks on it. I’ve been mulling over some applications, but I’m not sure what availability I should put down. I am up to working a full day – but I can’t do any heavy lifting and I’m not supposed to be driving at all until the sick certificate is up. (I’m not sure if that may have been hyperbole on the hospital’s part – I’m not in any pain and the incisions are completely closed and beginning to scar – but I’m not really willing to test it. I have someone who is willing to drive me around though, so the driving isn’t a big deal.) I also have a post-op appointment with a specialist at the end of the sick certificate although it’s on a weekend so it shouldn’t be a problem.

    Should I state my availability from the end of the sick certificate, or should I just say ‘now’ and indicate in the interview that I’ve had recent surgery and can’t do anything lifting for a few weeks?

    • Ring them and ask! 3 weeks isn’t a big deal and if they think you are right for the job most employers will hold out for you. Helps as well if you say you are happy to interview during the intervening period so they can get all the paperwork out of the way before you start.

      As an added bonus, calling them gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself ever so briefly. It isn’t much but I believe something as small as hearing someones voice can set yourself a little bit apart from a dozen other paper applications.

    • assuming it was abdominal surgery, the reason for the extended period of no heavy lifting is because there is a risk of hernias forming through the incisions if they’re placed under strain before they’ve properly healed (and not just simply closed up).

  • While I don’t have a work limiting injury, I have work limiting factor’s in my Life.
    It’s about how you sell it, but beware: if people don’t get what was advertised then your time there will be limited.

    The way I do it is like this:
    1. Get them interested:
    For me I’m a Jack of all trader with more than 10 years in the industry.
    For ROOF: be Keen, painfully Keen but also be smart: chances are you can take more than you thing from your current industry. Customer services is a little to fashionable for my liking atm (not that we need to go back to BOHs but spelling IT is a good start), so i you have any customer facing experience talk to your IT friends and find the correlations. And as per every where else: the logistics always kills you,Talk to Ur IT mates about every thing that is same as where you came from and learn the IT words for it. Don’t say that you’ve done it but say how you can see the same skills that severed you well will keep doing so. There are some many things that kill IT that are not IT, it’s crazy!

    2. Before they get to invested, lay it all out on the table:
    It’s a balancing act but it can be done. I use lines like: “One thing you should know is XY….Z complications. This means that there is AB…C potential impacts to my availability for meeting a 40hr week in a 9 to 5 time frame. But if you have alternate work arrangements available, I can use the to orgment my office hours to achieve what needs to be done.”
    Usually at this point you will have a very dumb founded interviewer, They are trying to access how this is going to impact their team/schedule/office etc. They are also trying to be careful not to put their foot in it and cost them selves. let them off the hook and make you the good guys with talk like: “I’m saying this now because no one likes to be blind side by this sort of thing, it just doesn’t work in the long run. I’m will to try and find a way to make this work, if you can help me.” along those lines, your come of as being honest in a job interview, always a good thing. If they are not will don’t take it as a loss, it would have just been a failure for both of you and you don’t need that on your CV.

    3. Do it in person where you can gauge the landing.
    These things are not on a CV but are discussed leading up to or in interview.

    4. Remember the beware!
    If people don’t get what was advertised then your time there will be limited.
    If you promised to be as effective as every one else you need to be or seen to be progressing quickly towards that.

    And the Seen point is important: working remotely or odd hours has the effect that your Unseen or seen to be cruising the web at 3pm, which is assumed to be un-effective, when really your doing the hours and happen to be taking your lunch break at your desk at 3pm because that is when it works for you. And i’m sure there are articles here about it but COMM’s COMM’s COMM’s is the only way to over come it. If your working remotely send constant updates via email or just drop people a line (if the hour suits) to check in and make sure that you are on the same page as your team.

    Also make sure that HR does know what is going on, even if it it not to be disclosed to your work mates. Your Boss & HR do need to know to work with you.

    Hope it Helps

  • I’m surprised the author didn’t mention specialist job service agencies that cater to people with disabilities.
    These agencies also already have the industry contacts to help you get into the field your interested in whilst also maintaining full disclosure. So these employers already know.

    In some cases there are also government incentives for a business to take on a disabled employee.

  • On a related note, you’ve said that “most employers will balk at hiring somebody who has suffered a workplace injury”. Are employers allowed to reject potential employees based on injury, even when unrelated to the work?

  • I would imagine so, if it stops them from doing the job in one form or another. If you have a broken leg, they can say no to you, especially if it involves moving, or anything else that requires two functioning legs.

    • Ah, may have poorly worded that, “even when the injury is unrelated to the work activity”, i.e. if you have an injury that does not influence your work (Say, broken arm but functioning legs, and the job involves leg work only)

      • I think the implication was that if you’ve been involved in a compensation/disability claim it raises something of a red flag to prospective employers that they’ll have similar problems with you as well.
        Are they allowed to do it? I would assume the law says no. But proving that they really are discriminating against you i imagine would be rather quite difficult to prove.

  • Usually they ask you “do you have any injuries or illnesses that may impact your work performance”. If you do not think this is the case, then you can honestly reply no.

    I had kidney troubles but I worked in an office, so I would say no. However I made sure they were aware that I had regular appointments with my specialist, but that I was willing to work extra on other days to compensate.

    If they press you for details, then my feeling (not sure of legalities) is that you are not compelled to tell them, other than if they want to run a risk assessment on you. However being honest and telling them the nature of your injury will probably put them at ease, as long as you focus on exactly how it limits you, and not just the why.

    “I need a kidney transplant” sounds very scary to an employer, but “My medical condition makes me tired sometimes, but won’t impact my work” is truthful, but sounds much less of a problem.

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