If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may have special concerns about how to handle the topic of your IBS when you are applying for work. Knowing what your rights are can help you to navigate your way through the job application process.
Your Rights Under the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals from being discriminated against because of a disability during the hiring process. Under the ADA, a disabled individual is one who:
- "Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
- Has a record or history of a substantially limiting impairment or is regarded or perceived by an employer as having a substantially limiting impairment."
This definition was expanded in an ADA amendment. The amendment includes problems with "major body functions" in its description of "major life activities" and recognizes the episodic nature of some disorders. This expanded definition strengthens the case for IBS as a disabling condition.
Should I Tell a Prospective Employer about my IBS?
Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities through the hiring process. If you would need such an accommodation, i.e. access to a bathroom during the interview or any pre-employment testing, you have the right to ask for such without it affecting whether or not you will be hired. The employer is entitled to ask for documentation as to your condition and your specific needs.
If you do not need such an accommodation, you are not required by law to inform any prospective employers about your health condition. Employers are prohibited from asking questions or requiring medical examinations prior to making a job offer. Once an offer has been extended, employers have a right to ask questions about your health history and are entitled to require medical examinations before you begin work as long as they have the same requirement for all others who have been offered the same job.
Can an Employer Use My IBS to Not Hire Me?
No, employers are prohibited from withdrawing a job offer just because they learn that you suffer from IBS. Job offers can only be withdrawn if the employer can prove that your IBS interferes with your ability to "perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodations".
Will My IBS Be Kept Confidential?
Any information regarding your health status that is revealed during the job application process must be kept confidential, with the following exceptions:
- Individuals involved in hiring decisions
- Supervisors and managers if reasonable accommodations are necessary
- Insurance carriers and government agencies
Do I Need to Discuss Reasonable Accommodations Prior to Being Hired?
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to enable a disabled person to function fully in their job. You are not required to discuss the need for such accommodations prior to being hired.
For ideas on reasonable work accommodations for IBS, see:
What Do I Do if I Think I Have Been Discriminated Against?
If you feel that you have been discriminated against during a job application process, you will need to file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Charges may include:
- Being denied the opportunity to apply for a job
- Being denied a job
- Refusing requests for reasonable accommodations through the hiring process
- Asking illegal questions regarding your health history or requiring a medical examination prior to a job offer
Discrimination claims must be filed within 180 days at an EEOC field office. EEOC offices can be found online: EEOC Office List and Jurisdictional Map, or by calling 1-(800)-669-4000 (TTY: 1-(800)-669-6820). In some cases, the EEOC may refer you to a local or State agency who has jurisdiction over your case. If the discrimination occurred during the process of applying for a federal job, you must file a claim within 45 days at the Equal Opportunity Office associated with the federal agency in question.
For job search advice, see:
"Job Applicants and the Americans with Disabilities Act" The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Accessed March 24, 2011
"Notice Concerning The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Accessed January 3, 2011.
"Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Accessed January 3, 2011.