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I have a severe digestive disorder. A part of my intestinal tract is paralyzed, so I am unable to go to the bathroom without the use of two highly specialized prescription medications. This regimen is carefully regulated because the meds are so strong.

The end result is this: Every other day, at 9AM, I suddenly and very urgently need to use the restroom 5-6 times during the hour. I'm away from my desk for about 30 minutes altogether.

Given the nature of how embarrassing this disability is, but also how important it is that I have that bathroom access, I'm trying to figure out how to explain this need to future employers.

At my most recent job (before I was laid off due to coronavirus), my boss was incredibly understanding of this condition and fully supported my no-questions-asked bathroom access. I asked him every once in a while if he felt my condition interfered with my work. He always said no. I spoke with him recently, and asked him if I should notify potential employers about this condition. He said, in short, no.

I am not as optimistic as him about the idea that my next employer would be willing to accommodate my needs as they arise, without having informed him/her beforehand. I sort of want to say during the interview, "Look, I have this illness, but as far as I can tell it does not interfere with my productivity. However, I will occasionally be getting up from meetings or be away from my desk in the morning a few times per week."

I've read through a few of the other posts about disabilities, but I feel my situation necessitates that I make a new post. The reason I wanted to ask this question is for two reasons; one being that my accommodation affects everyone else in a way that say, a standing desk accommodation, does not. Using the bathroom frequently might affect the people who need access to it. The other reason being that my condition is so embarrassing that some employers might not even want to hear about it. "TMI" etc.

Should I disclose this condition in advance? Or when, and how, should I inform a potential employer?

  • 11
    is it fair to compare your situation to "3 days a week (MWF) I have a medical appointment at 9-10, in the same building as work so no travel time" or perhaps "I co-parent and need to take my kids to school 3 times a week, so I can't start working before 10am on these days"? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica May 6 at 20:31
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    Your nickname seems to indicate a high-level desk job, correct? – guest May 6 at 20:46
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    Is the 9:00 timeframe directly related to your circadian rhythm (I woke up x number of hours ago, so I must go now!) or directly related to when the medication is taken? Can you work with your doctor to shift when you get the urge? While most employers should be accommodating, shifting the bowel movements to outside regular business hours may relieve you of any embarrassment that you may be feeling, even with an understanding boss and coworkers. – Michael Richardson May 8 at 16:14
  • You might consider revealing that at the very end of your initial interview and I suspect few of us have that much courage. Depending on your jurisdiction you might withhold that information until after you were offered the post. Where I live, such information should make no legal difference. Herre in the UK, no (potential) employer may not take disabilities into account. Where it matters, the employer must cater for them, without any argument. – Robbie Goodwin May 8 at 20:06
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Wait until they've made an offer.

  • This gets you past any potential biases from a recruiter/HR person/etc. that you most likely won't work with in your day to day job.

  • If they rescind the offer, it's easier to point to your medical condition as the reason. (They may try to claim a sudden budget change but they can't claim you're not qualified.)

  • Assuming there's an on site interview1, you get to form your own opinion about their facilities.

  • Since this is still before anything is signed, you can get an idea of how much push back you'll get before you're stuck with them as an employer. You may decide you don't want to work someplace where they'll give you grief over it.

  • Since you find discussing it embarrassing, there's no reason to have this discussion with anyone who won't hire you.

Since you're in the United States you're likely covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act so you may consider waiting until you're hired to disclose it since they're legally required to accommodate you, but that depends on how much you're willing to risk having to fight for it if it turns out they're going to be jerks about it.

The EEOC has more information:

  • Disability Discrimination is an overview with lots of resource links.
  • Fact Sheet This one is gives an example accomodation I think is fairly close to your situation:

    An employee with diabetes may need regularly scheduled breaks during the workday to eat properly and monitor blood sugar and insulin levels.

1In the general case if you ever have to work in an office. I'm guessing that with a desk job, you're currently remote.

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    If, during the interview, the question comes up about "Do you need any special accommodations", should I say "no" and then tell them about the condition only when they make an offer? That seems somewhat dishonest to me... – Umbrella_Programmer May 7 at 17:14
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    @Umbrella_Programmer Are people asking you that in interviews? IANAL, but that seems like an extremely dangerous thing to do as an interviewer—it’s skirting close to things you cannot legally ask about in an interview, IMO. To which point, if asked that question, you can honestly interpret it as “Do you need any special accomodations [that we’re legally allowed to ask about]?” and then honestly reply “No.” If it comes down to a legal fight, explaining that interpretation forces them to either accept it (and so you didn’t lie in the interview), or to admit they asked an illegal question. – KRyan May 7 at 18:15
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    @Umbrella_Programmer According to the fact sheet, employers may ask about your ability to do the job but they can't ask you about the disability itself (whether you have one, how serious it is, etc). Also note that there is a difference between asking about accommodations for the interview, which in your case you could solve with scheduling, and accommodations for the job itself. – BSMP May 7 at 19:31
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    Having a mandatory long bathroom break at a specific time doesn't affect your ability to do your job (assuming you're an office worker). Just put a calendar block for that time as a recurring meeting, and you're done. – Richard Rast May 8 at 0:15
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    @dotancohen This is not a good idea. It could easily interpreted as a crude joke, which has no place in an interview. Also, toilets are not a special accomondation. – Necrophades May 8 at 12:48
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Sooner or later people will find out that something is going on and will start to talk. You should communicate this to your direct boss, but you do not need to disclose it to other colleagues. You could also ask your boss for some alternatives:

  • You could start your working day at ten
  • You could work remotely

A good company/boss should not refuse such things when a worker has such conditions. At best they should provide such options by themselves. If not you should ask yourself if this is the right company for you.

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Every job application I've filled out recently (for office programming jobs) include an apparently mandatory section asking about disabilities. This would be a judgement call for you, but that would be the place to give notice of this situation, however vaguely you feel you need. If the employer is interested in you, then most likely their HR will clarify the declaration before they make an offer. The "accommodation" needed to address this issue is far less onerous than most unmet by the ADA, so it should not be an problem for any but the most squeamish employers, for whom your situation would probably eventually be an issue anyway.

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