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I work in the software industry, which can be pretty competitive. I am an excellent programmer but programming positions almost always involve some sort of overtime situation. I've had some that are much better than others, but I don't think I've ever had one where there wasn't an implicit expectation that a hard deadline be met even if it requires overtime.

I have a ADA-recognized disability that prevents me from working in long stretches. In certain circumstances, I have had to use the ADA to take leave or request an accommodation via the HR department of the company. In two specific circumstance where I've done this, the tone between my manager and myself has completely changed. They are reluctant to give me responsibility and it often feels like I become someone to be worked around rather than part of the team. In one circumstance, I took a leave and I was more or less accused of gaming the system.

I completely understand the manager's position - I don't think it's right, but with all the legal stuff involved on top of managing, I can sort of understand what happens here. I've gotten by for a few years doing contract work because it's easier to manage my hours, I would like to find a long term position.

My question is this: This disability is not going away and I would like to find a job where I am respected and can use my skills to their fullest despite my disability. What is the best way to approach new employers so that I can describe what I need without making my employer wary or sounding overdemanding when first offered a position?

I understand I'm not entitled to this, but I also feel like I perform just as well if not better than any of my peers, even if you take into account my reduced time in the seat. My performance reviews attest to this. I am more than willing to have a frank conversation with my manager about what I'm capable of and what I'm not, but they seem less willing to do so.

I'm looking for pragmatic answers, preferably from someone in a similar spot or a manager who has felt they have dealt with this successfully. The answer 'take a less demanding job' is not appropriate - my experience over 4 positions is, paradoxically, the more challenging the workplace, the less judgement I have faced when taking leave.

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Could you say more about how you can have an ADA-recognized disability but "are not entitled to [accommodations]"? Speaking as a manager, that's the whole point -- if you are good at your job but need accommodations, you get accommodations. Not only is it right, it's the law, unless there's something I'm missing here. –  jcmeloni Jun 18 '12 at 10:05
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Constant overtime is a product of management not programming. I have worked for many companies where 40hours was the norm they are out there. If you can work a normal 40 hour week then you should probably just look for a better company. I would give that advice to anyone with or without disabilities. –  Chad Jun 18 '12 at 15:31
    
You perform as well or better than your peers in part becasue of your reduced time in the seat. Working more than 40 hours on a regular basis is exhausting and leads to people taking longer to do tasks and making more errors. alternet.org/story/154518/… –  HLGEM Jan 4 '13 at 23:56
    
You don't want to work for managers that expect routine overtime anyways. I'd consider it a blessing of a red flag. ;) –  DA. Jan 5 '13 at 3:37
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2 Answers

It is disgusting and vile, but job discrimination against those with disabilities is rampant. The ADA is there to protect you from such managers and companies so the very first thing you need to change is your attitude about claiming your rights granted to you by the ADA.

You seem to have a hint of guilt or regret that you need to occassionally take leave:

  • I was more or less accused of gaming the system.

  • I can sort of understand what happens here.

  • They are reluctant to give me responsibility and it often feels like I become someone to be worked around rather than part of the team.

  • I understand I'm not entitled to this.

You need to understand that the law grants you these rights because of a legitimate disability that you cannot control. It is there to protect you against such abuses so absolve yourself of any guilt and do not let your manager set the tone on this in a negative way.

This is no different than sexism in the workplace which I have seen. In the US, a woman is entitled to at least 6 weeks maternity leave by law, but the defacto standard tends to be 12. I have had managers offer me promotions and lead positions with the assumption that I would "marry" the job, despite the fact that a coworker who was pregnant and much more qualified and experienced than I was happened to be completely disregarded.

Managers will try to guilt you and bully you into thinking ill of yourself for taking advantage of your rights, from experience 98% of it is hot air. If you FEEL guilty about it and I suspect you do, then you are allowing the manager to set the tone and you are allowing yourself to be bullied. I have never been fired or laid off from a job for refusing to come in on the weekend BTW, not to say that I haven't put weekends in, but I generally set the tone and tell my manager if it is something I can do or not.

Succumbing to bullying will not get you ahead in your career. Being frank and straightforward, demonstrating respect for yourself, being professional and courteous, carrying yourself with an aire of confidence, speaking to others (including managers and directors) as if they are equals, respectably of course, along with exhibiting excellence in your work is what will make you stand out. If these traits earn you derision and discrimination at a job then the place doesn't want quality employees to help the company meet their goals, they want busy bees that they can manipulate and control and it is not a place that you want to work anyway.

What is the best way to approach new employers so that I can describe what I need without making my employer wary or sounding overdemanding when first offered a position?

If you have the attitudes and behaviors described above, then in discussing with a new employer you will have the confidence and self respect to easily handle this situation without any self doubt.

  • Be upfront and honest about your disability and how it affects you.

  • Abstain from emotionally charged descriptions of your condition and how it affects you

  • Stick to the facts (without getting gross)

  • Clearly say how this affects you.

  • If they are appropriate, answer employer questions thoroughly.

  • When you are done talking about this, quickly change the tone of the conversation, you don't want the disability to define you.

  • Don't talk about it first, or last in the interview. The meeting, and the final 5 minutes set the emotional tone with the interviewer about how they feel about you as a person, which is tied to whether they trust you.

And most of all, don't lose hope. There are plenty of jobs out there that do not discriminate.

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+1 - Great answer, especially for closing with Don't talk about it first, or last in the interview and try to avoid letting your disability define you. –  Mark Booth Jun 18 '12 at 12:18
    
This is an awesome answer. I know this is old but it happened to pop up and I was looking at this because I'm starting to need to figure out how to assert myself in this situation as I'm starting to feel the impacts of something I have a disability from the army. –  Randy E Feb 6 '13 at 6:55
    
@RandyE Good I am glad that it helped you. –  maple_shaft Feb 6 '13 at 17:10
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What Employers Can Ask

Employers generally can't ask if you are disabled. Even if you disclose that you are disabled, the employer generally isn't entitled to the gory details. As a result, most employers will simply ask whether you can meet the requirements of the job "with or without reasonable accommodation."

This is a yes or no question, so don't complicate it. If you can do the job with reasonable accomodations, say yes. Otherwise, if you can't perform the essential functions of the role even with reasonable accommodations, then you aren't qualified for the job even under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Determining what's actually essential to a role and what sorts of accommodations are "reasonable" is not always clear cut. You will need to apply some common sense about what kinds of jobs to pursue, based on the nature of your chosen career and the limitations of your disability.

When to Request Accommodations

According to the EEOC:

An individual with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the application process or during the period of employment. The ADA does not preclude an employee with a disability from requesting a reasonable accommodation because s/he did not ask for one when applying for a job or after receiving a job offer.

In other words, you don't necessarily need to request an accommodation or disclose a disability until and unless it interferes with the performance of your job. That doesn't mean you can't be proactive about broaching the issue with a company during the interview process or shortly after being hired, but you are certainly not required to make an up-front issue of your disability if you believe you can perform the essential functions of the role you are applying for.

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Yes, this. Examples of reasonable accommodations in OP's case would be spreading out the overtime (e.g. taking a 2-hour break in the middle of the 12-hour day, or working 8-hour days but coming in on the weekend too). If some amount of overtime is required and you can't do it at all then you don't meet the requirements of the job, but you can look for ways to structure it. –  Monica Cellio Jan 6 '13 at 2:09
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