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How much do you risk by disclosing previous mental illness to a potential employer? While some organisations have positive policies, in others disclosure could mean not getting the job in the first place, not progressing as far once in the role, or even being forced out of your existing role.
However, the situation is slowly changing. Although the charity Mind
has revealed that one in six employees suffer stress, anxiety or depression, a new employers’ pledge will help organisations manage employees with mental health conditions. It includes guidance onworkplace adjustments to support employees.
The legal position
The 2010 Equality Act helps protect job applicants against discrimination, by disallowing questions about a candidate’s health or sickness record before offering a job. As Philip Landau explains there are limited exceptions to this rule, such as when it might be necessary to offer adjustments during the selection process or to decide whether a candidate can carry out an essential part of the job.
This legislation means that you’re not required to disclose information about your mental health at application (or interview) stage. If your prospective employer asks about it (and you’re subsequently turned down) you may have grounds for unlawful discrimination, says Emma Mano from Mind in a Guardian Careers live Q&A: Should I disclose my mental health problem at work?
Disclosing issues after a job offer has been made can be beneficial, Amy Whitelock of Mind says. “Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for people who disclose a disability which is protected under the Equality Act.”
Reasonable adjustments are not necessarily expensive or difficult to organise. In fact, according to The Equality and Human Rights Commission, most cost nothing, with the average being £75. Workplace adjustments can include: flexibility on start or finishing times, phasing a return to work, allowing some working from home, provision of quiet rooms, and support with the workload through a buddy or mentoring scheme.
What to reveal during the application process
You don’t need to mention ill health on your CV as a reason for leaving previous employment. (In application forms, where not filling in a field can be more problematic, you can offer “personal reasons” to explain why you left a job.)
If your illness has resulted in gaps in your work history, you may be able to find ways to fill these, with activities such as temping, working on your own projects, or periods of study. These activities can be slotted in to the relevant sections of your CV, such as an education / training section that can also include ongoing professional development, or a “personal projects” section that can include any work-related or professional projects you’ve undertaken.
Temping can be an excellent way to ease yourself back into full-time work without worrying about whether – or how – to disclose previous illness. A commenter says: “When I started interviews for a permanent company, I was able to say that I had left the company due to wanting a fresh start and [that I chose] temping to decide the type of company I wanted to work in. I got several job offers without having to disclose.”
However, if ill health has created long or repeated gaps in employment, one strategy is to leave out employment dates altogether, replacing these with the length of time you worked in each role.
Start with a strong profile section that summarises your key strengths and selling points, then continue with a skills section (that matches the skills requirements of the job). Give examples of how you’ve used these skills so this section is as detailed and robust as possible. Then in your work history section, list employers and briefly explain the company and the breadth and scope of your role. Where you’d have start and end dates, state how long you were in the role.
Your goal in doing this is to impress an employer with your relevant strengths, experience and achievements, so that despite a lack of employment dates, you’re still a strong candidate for interviewing.
What to say at interview
What you choose to say will depend on your particular situation. Be prepared to explain gaps in your work history (or lack of dates) without disclosing previous illness. You can claim “personal reasons” for leaving a role, but frame these positively in the context of what you’re now applying for. Focus on your reasons for wanting the role, and how your skills and talents would enable you to make a contribution.
References and other conditions
Employers are not obliged to provide a reference – or to give the reason why you left your job. But a good reference undoubtedly helps, especially if your job offer is conditional upon one. For this reason, it helps to get a written reference before you leave employment. If you’ve been unable to do this, contact your previous employers to explain your situation and ask whether you can agree on the wording of a reference.
If a job offer is conditional upon a satisfactory medical check-up, you can also choose to explain your medical history, emphasising to your prospective employer how you’re now fit and able to do the job
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