returning to work, resumes and disclosure
Jul 13, 1998
Medicines are working for me. I've been on disability for a couple years, but I'm now re-training (in college)for a more sedentary career (as a programmer.)
When I begin interviewing, should I disclose my status? What about insurance benefits and the forms they require? Can I say one thing to a prospective employer and another to the insurer? Finally, how do I account for the void in my resume?
Response from Ms. Breuer
Great news about the medications! Here's a short course on returning to work: you do not need to disclose your status, and I recommend that you think seriously about your goals in disclosing if you choose to do it. Your diagnosis is your business, and unless your workplace has received reliable HIV education, you could invite trouble you don't need by disclosing. I recommend that you get established there before you even think seriously about disclosing.
When you join a group health/disability/life insurance plan, generally you do not need to complete paperwork that goes deeply into your medical history. If you are required to answer a questionnaire about your medical history, you must respond honestly to the questions or risk a nullified policy if the provider discovers that you lied on the form. I recommend that if you are given such a form to complete, you ask the employer's human resources director what privacy protections are in place. Who receives the completed form? Does anyone keep a copy? Where? Can you send the form directly to the insurance company? How is the confidentiality of your medical information maintained?
You should not be asked to complete the forms, if there are any, until after you have been hired. If anything happens that doesn't fit what I've just described, feel free to ask the employer questions. Sometimes HR people relax the standards if they haven't been challenged on them lately, and you can remind them of your privacy rights. There's more information about this in a guide I wrote last year for the National AIDS Fund called "What About My Rights? Guidelines for Employers and Employees Living with HIV/AIDS." I suggest you call the Fund at 202.408.4848, ask for the workplace resource center, and request a copy.
And now the most ticklish question of all: how do you account for the gap in your employment history? Once again, this is your business. Everyone I know in this field recommends the same answer: you were dealing with a serious family illness. Period. (It's true.) I suggest that you let a few seconds go by, then offer to tell the interviewer what you learned during that interval. Then you can talk about how your values were affected by the experience, about how you learned to manage complex medical information and insurance records on behalf of the person who was ill, and other skills you acquired during the interval. Time management? Setting priorities? Dealing with bureaucracies? I'll bet you could list some very valuable ones. You need not mention who was ill.
I wish you well and hope you find a terrific job!
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