Dear Dr. Archer,
I applied for a job as a musician with a cruise line in April of this year. I successfully completed the audition, and then the hiring specialist verbally offered me a job on one of their ships starting this November. They sent several pages of paperwork for me to complete, which included a medical exam.
I agonized over whether to be honest about a mental condition that I have been treated for in the past. Because the question on the application was a direct yes or no question, and the bottom of the form stated that I could be terminated if I chose not to disclose a condition prior to employment and they found out about it later, I chose to answer "yes".
Since that time, I have spent almost $1,000 in medical examination fees because I do not have insurance, and have been sending paperwork back and forth between the cruise line and my doctor since April.
I have not had a full time job since I graduated in May with a Master's degree in Music. I've been working as a freelance musician and using my savings to survive.
Every time I send a requested document, I get an email from them about a week later asking for more documentation. This has been going on since April!
The mental condition in no way affects my ability to play my instrument, which is what the job would entail. I wrote a long letter explaining to the medical specialist why I felt that I would be able to perform the job satisfactorily.
She asked what caused the medical condition and I explained in detail the circumstances that led to my hospitalization, what I've learned from the experience and what I do to deal with stress. She asked for letters, questionnaires, etc., and I have sent everything that has been asked of me.
Last week after the medical specialist received a final questionnaire from my doctor, she sent an email stating that my doctor said I would have to have medical treatment at 3 to 6 month intervals, which they do not provide on their ships.
She also said they would review my paperwork and let me know of their decision regarding my employment. The contract that I was supposed to start in November is a three month contract, so to me, the recommended treatment interval is a non-issue.
There are many elements to this story that make me wonder if this is a case of discrimination based on my medical history. I have used up my savings on living expenses while trying to fulfill all of this cruise line's requests. Had I not been honest on the application, I would have already had this job.
I say that based on the fact that I know individuals who have less experience and less education, who have worked for this cruise line as musicians -- in some cases, for years.
I'm so disappointed and angry, I don't know what to do. I successfully taught public school for ten years and hold a lifetime teacher's certification. I hold a Bachelor's and a Master's degree.
The U.S. Army was willing to take me as a member of their music program, and they were aware of this condition. I'm now too old to enlist. I feel like the cruise line is treating me like a convicted felon, and it hurts.
I moved back home to visit with my family while I wait for the cruise line's approval or rejection. Every day I regret telling the truth on that job application. I had no idea what honesty would cost me in terms of time, money, energy, reputation and peace of mind.
Why do applications threaten people with termination for not disclosing conditions that don't affect their job performance? That seems like a form of entrapment. "Go ahead and plead guilty and we won't penalize you." I was gullible -- and honest -- enough to believe that.
Thank you for taking the time to read this email. I'm just not sure what course of action to take at this point. I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions.
First, you should be commended for telling the truth on the application. Larger companies usually check the validity of all applications, but this usually relates to a background checks for a legal problem. Medical or mental problems should not be asked about unless it concerns something that would prevent you from performing your duties.
Unfortunately this is not the first time I’ve heard about a situation such as this and it’s a sad day when any of us are put in a position where it is better to lie than tell the truth. As we fight the battle against mental illness discrimination, I hope stories such as this will eventually become obsolete.
Disability laws that are on the books now prohibit employers from discriminating against those with disabilities, and this includes mental illnesses. Laws across the country prohibit companies from treating you any differently because of any prejudiced view about mental health.
Simply put, Lynn, your past mental illness should not keep you from getting or keeping a job.
My advice is to first hope for the best. Wait to hear from the cruise line as to whether you got the job. If you get it great, enjoy! If not, then in light of all this, you have a good case if you file a complaint, especially since you were initially offered the job on the spot.
The federal government provides assistance for people who have experienced discrimination. Call the Job Accommodation Network at 800.232.9675. Hopefully they can help.
If not then it may be time for legal action. I hope you have saved every last piece of correspondence and it would be worth your while to write down a timeline of everything that took place, including your recollection of all face to face and telephone conversations.
Then, have an attorney read it over and give some advice so you can decide if you really want to proceed with discrimination charges. It will be long and grueling, but ultimately it is up to you and your attorney to decide how far you want to take this.
In the meantime, while you are waiting, look at other places of employment. Hopefully they do the right thing and you get the job. Let me know. I wish you well and much success. Good luck.