This post was written by Alison Green and published on Ask a Manager.
A reader writes:
I have a question regarding asking for disability accommodations when getting a new job.
I have a circadian rhythm disorder that basically makes me a clinically diagnosed night owl and causes me great pain when getting up at what would be a normal time for most people. When I’m able to sleep on my own schedule, I sleep well and feel well-rested upon waking. But when I shift my sleep schedule to get up earlier, my body’s desire to keep sleeping in the morning is so strong that I will turn off my alarm without actually waking up, press the snooze button for hours, walk to another room to try to wake up only to lay down in there and fall back asleep, be unable to interpret the numbers on the clock, and if I do manage to force myself awake basically feel like I’m having a heart attack. It took me a long time to realize that this was a disorder and to get a diagnosis.
At my current job, I have a delayed start time, which improves my quality of life immensely, but I’m looking to leave this job for something more interesting and lucrative.
There’s only so much medical intervention that can be done. I’ve tried the most effective treatments (light therapy, melatonin) and they help keep my sleep regular and pull my wake time earlier by an hour or two, but I can’t push it past that. The only other thing to try would be taking prescription stimulants every morning to wake up, which I’ve heard a lot of negative things about from others with my disability. I am willing to try this route for the right job, but would much prefer to have a delayed start time, and if that’s not feasible for a particular position, I would like something in writing that allows me some extra grace around showing up late more often than most people would.
Bringing this up wasn’t an issue with my current job because I had worked for them in temporary positions previously, before my diagnosis. They saw the difficulties I faced first-hand and I was able to talk about it openly in the interview process.
In my search for a new job, I’ve been asking in the interview process how much flexibility there is around work hours but not telling them that I would need flexibility or have a disability.
Is this something that I should talk about in the interview process, or should I wait until I have an offer? Or even wait until I start and then talk to HR about this? On one hand, I’m worried that if I disclose it in the interview process, I could get passed over because they don’t want to deal with my accommodation. On the other hand, people have told me that it could cause friction with my manager if I wait until I’m hired and then drop this on them. One person I know who is a manager told me that if someone waited until they were hired to disclose this, they would feel put off and like the employee didn’t trust them, and that could cause ill will. However, I see no reason I should trust a manager I don’t know yet to treat me fairly, and I’m more concerned with my ability to get a good job and be protected under the law than I am with my potential manager’s feelings.
What are your thoughts here? Should I disclose early and often? Should I bring it up before accepting an offer? Or should I set myself up for maximum legal protection by waiting until the paperwork is signed?
You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.