Q: I took early retirement last year. Shortly thereafter, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to stop working. With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, I went back to school to become a paralegal. This worked out perfectly, as I am disabled and use either a walker or a cane, and the virtual classes were easy to attend.
I am starting to apply for paralegal positions. Due to the continuing pandemic, the work is listed as remote, and the interviews are virtual as well. At what point in the process do I let a prospective employer know I am disabled? I don’t want this to hinder any opportunities, but I also don’t want to surprise them with this information and make it appear as though I was hiding something. What’s the best way to disclose a disability in this virtual job-hunting environment?
A: If a prospective employer thinks your skills are a fit for the job, and your disability doesn’t interfere with your performance — which it shouldn’t do, if the remote job is anything like your virtual classes — then it shouldn’t matter when you disclose. (Not to mention that the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits most employers from discriminating against candidates solely on the basis of a disability.) But I respect your concern about springing an unexpected challenge on a potential employer.
Instead of thinking of it as “disclosing” anything, approach it in the spirit of performing due diligence on whether this job and this workplace are a good fit for you, because you’re confident you’d be a great hire.
During the interview or while you’re considering an offer, ask: Does the employer intend for the job to remain remote once the coronavirus exposure is no longer a concern? Is remaining remote an option? If not, then you will need to know how accessible the office is for people who use mobility aids: elevators, stairs and emergency evacuation plans, for example.
As I’ve said before, if any good comes of the pandemic, it will be the confirmation of just how many office jobs can be performed from home as effectively as from a commercial office. Although some tasks legitimately require in-person interaction for legal or security reasons, it’s harder for employers to arbitrarily deny remote work options if they have a year’s worth of evidence that their workers can be just as productive from home.
Q: A customer of our office has offered me a one-week stay, at no charge, at a vacation home during the summer. Our office staff all serve this customer, and I am no more helpful than the person next to me. The customer is thrilled to gift the week, but I feel so guilty that others don’t have the same opportunity. Do I take the offer or turn it down? I somehow think I would feel better turning it down. I literally couldn’t fall asleep last night thinking about it.
A: Pros of accepting this generous offer: It would be a lot of fun.
Cons of accepting:
It puts you in the customer’s debt, even if it’s not intended to. You provide service; the customer pays for the service. Balance achieved. By offering you a freebie vacation on top of that, your customer is tipping the scales out of balance and creating more obligation.
Accepting the gift could create an unforeseen conflict of interest that puts your company in a bad position.
If your co-workers find out, it will probably create resentment.
Accepting a mysterious “free” vacation is how horror movie characters end up stranded in the woods fleeing a chainsaw-wielding maniac — or worse, listening to a timeshare pitch.
If you have a long-established personal friendship with this customer outside of work, and the vacation was given in the context of that relationship, it might be a different matter. Otherwise, you should not accept gifts from a client that you cannot share with colleagues, with one exception: A customer who feels you have been particularly helpful can write a note to your boss saying as much.