How to bring up accommodations for COVID-19 risk or other tricky personal circumstances in a job interview
It's always tricky to broach the subject of personal, extenuating circumstances in a job interview, and with the concerns around COVID-19, those fears are more widespread and more pronounced than ever. Perhaps your asthma has never been a concern in your job search, but now, you have to consider your high-risk status when assessing a potential employer's commitment to safety. Is it even safe to go back to work? How can you bring up sensitive topics without losing a job opportunity?
There are bound to be new rules and best practices for hiring managers that will emerge after the pandemic, but while we're in the thick of it, we'll have to rely on past experience. The good news is, you're not alone. Plenty of people have been successfully hired when they've had to bring up an extenuating circumstance, whether it's a one-time thing like their upcoming wedding and honeymoon, a longer-term situation like the beginning of a pregnancy, or an unchanging circumstance like religious observances or a disability.
If your concern is due to a medical condition that's covered under the ADA, you'll be legally entitled to reasonable accommodations. You may consider consulting with an attorney or trained HR professional to better understand the nuances of the ADA (not all high-risk conditions are covered). If you are covered, you should wait until after you've received an offer to discuss the accommodations; an employer cannot rescind the offer once its made, but it's easy (especially in a competitive industry like Hollywood) for silent discrimination to go unchecked because "another candidate was a better fit." It's also reasonable to request a virtual interview at this time (this is a good test of whether a company prioritizes a safe work environment) and completely within bounds to ask about the company's safety protocols in the job interview, even without disclosing your personal medical information.
If your concerns are COVID-related but not covered under the ADA -- let's say you're a caregiver for someone who is at risk or you need to work from home while your child is distance-learning -- it's a little trickier. In this case, you should definitely ask about the company's safety protocols and telework options during your interview. The hiring manager may surprise you and alleviate your concerns without you needing to share your life story! If there is a concern, however, you'll need to tread carefully. Weigh how important this particular job is versus the risk you're taking. If you're completely unimpressed by their safety policies, stay away! If the job seems like a great fit or even a good enough fit with a paycheck that you need right away, explain your circumstance and ask if it's something they'll be able to accommodate. If they can't accommodate, you have two options: walk away and try for the next job, or let them know you'll find a solution and are still ready and available to work. That's a completely personal decision, and only you know the intimate details of your circumstances well enough to make that choice.
If your unique personal situation isn't COVID-related, a similar line of thinking applies. For something like a wedding, it’s as simple as saying, “I’m curious about the company’s vacation policy -- I'm getting married in October and will need a week off. Would it be possible to take a vacation then?” Often, it won't be an issue. In other instances, you might have to take the time off unpaid. If they don't let you take time off unpaid, you'll either have to amend how much time you're taking off for your wedding, or keep looking -- again, a personal decision. But keep in mind that if an employer is completely inflexible about something as eventful as a wedding, it's unlikely they're going to work with you when you want to take other types of vacations.
For a recurring situation, you should outline how you plan to do the job with accommodations -- and remember, this is after you've gotten the offer. Try something like, “I want to let you know that I observe many religious holidays that require me to be out of the office for several extra days of the year. I can send you a schedule of the exact dates, and I’m prepared to make up the hours by staying later during the other days of those weeks. If you’d like to talk to some past employers about how this has worked, I’m happy to provide references.” If they're accommodating, pleasant, and understanding, that's a good sign! Accept the offer and perform the role perfectly, so they know they made the right choice (and also because it's smart to be good at your job!). But if they start howling through the phone about how you’re incredibly shady and can’t believe you trapped them like this, consider declining the offer. That reaction is pretty indicative of a culture of abuse, and that's never worth it, even in a tough economic time. You don't need to add "working for an insufferable, abusive maniac" to an already stressful situation.
Most importantly, remember that you work to live, and if your job is going to get in the way of your health and happiness, it may not be worth it. There are plenty of great companies out there who are doing the right thing and treating their employees like humans, which is the bare minimum that you deserve.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan