Ask HR: Should I Tell My Employer About My Reckless Driving Charge?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP November 13, 2020
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Ask HR: Should I Tell My Employer About My Reckless Driving Charge?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

 

Question: Should I disclose my reckless driving charge to my new employer since it's going to show up on my background check and motor vehicle records check? I really want this job and feel I should share this after I submit the background check. —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Trust your gut. I think your instinct got this right because, in virtually every case, honesty is truly the most mature and professional approach.

In this case, if the employer will conduct a motor vehicle records check, then it's best to be upfront and disclose this information from the get-go. This would be especially smart if driving is central to the duties of the job you are hoping to land.

By offering this information in advance, you have an opportunity to frame the event and explain the circumstances. That might sound counterintuitive—but it's strategic.

Just imagine what will happen if you don't disclose it and the employer finds out. That revelation would raise a lot of questions in the hiring manager's mind that you probably won't have a chance to answer; instead, he or she will spend time speculating and, unfortunately, judging your character.

If the charges are still pending, the hiring manager may even take this into consideration and decide to bring you on board based on your skill set. By being upfront, you're showcasing two very important soft skills all employers look for: honesty and integrity.

Of course, you could keep quiet and hope for the best. Maybe it won't come up! That's possible, but it also means abandoning your power to shape the conversation. In contrast, by boldly disclosing your mistake, you not only neutralize the past, but you also—by your actions—tell the employer something about your character. You own your decisions.

To be clear, there is no need to fixate upon this mistake. But, if you feel the charge could cause this opportunity to slip through your fingers, it would be wise to air it out yourself rather than let it get dug up later.

We all make mistakes, and many great employers out there are willing and eager to give second chances if they understand what you learned and how you handled the situation. Good luck!

 

Question: Is it legal for an employer to ask questions about mental health on a job application? Are there ADA restrictions? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Thank you for submitting such a timely question. With 1 in 4 workers frequently feeling down, depressed or hopeless, the pandemic is taking a psychological toll on workers and employers alike.

In general, no: Employers cannot ask about your personal health on a job application. Not only is it inappropriate, but it could be considered a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency that enforces the ADA), employers are prohibited from making medical or disability-related inquiries of applicants, whether verbally or in writing, before making an offer of employment.

It's also important to note that even if an applicant were to request an accommodation for a mental health condition, that does not mean an employer can then inquire about that disability. That said, it does provide the employer permission to request documentation from an appropriate medical care professional about the condition as it relates to the hiring process.

I know that's a seemingly slight distinction. However, it is critical because such a verbal request would be a breach of confidentiality, whereas the documentation would go through the proper channels to protect employee privacy.

I'll add this: Reducing mental health stigma in the workplace is critical. And so is the provision of resources to support employees' well-being. Don't be afraid to ask about these benefits, such as employee assistance programs, while searching for a job. In fact, nearly one-third of employers plan to increase mental health benefits for employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The job application process is strenuous enough as it is. Know that your mental health is not—and should never be—a liability.

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