Can Employers Ask About Your Mental Health During Interviews?

Helpful insights from this article in Inc. magazine. Turns out that pre-employment, the employer may not ask questions that will disclose the existence of a disability, such as mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. What they can ask are questions about their ability to perform specific tasks. For instance, it’s a legitimate question to ask what they would tell a camper who became fearful on an overnight camping trip, what their favorite things to do on a camp-out are, and what activities they like to do with the kids. They could be asked what experience they have helping kids work through problems, what they’d do if they encountered a camper who clearly had an eating disorder, or why they are the best person to supervise children.

As a solution, employers may make you a conditional offer of employment. After the conditional offer is made, the employer may do some things that may help under these circumstances, as long as they are done for all employees who get the conditional offer. They could do a physical agility test requiring them to demonstrate their ability to perform certain skills, as an example. They could require the individuals to demonstrate skills such as the ability to start a campfire in the dark, how to make s’mores, or other basic camping skills. If the post-employment inquiry discloses the existence of a disability, the employer can now ask how the applicant will be able to perform the essential duties of their job and what accommodations the employer may need to provide.

Employers are cautioned not to make assumptions about someone’s abilities just because they have a disability. For instance, the employee who had an eating disorder might well be able to recognize a camper with the beginnings of one and help get them through their problem or know when to call in a professional for help. The employee who was afraid of the dark might be able to help campers through their fears. If it is clear the applicant will not be able to perform the essential functions of their job, even with accommodations, then the offer may be withdrawn.

This is also probably a situation where “tell me about a time when…” interview questions will be especially important.

Adam Wahlberg

Founder of Think Piece Publishing