In the March 10, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader will need time off for a medical procedure soon after starting a new job. Must the new employer be told before the employee starts work?
I tore my ACL playing volleyball. I just got over the hurdle of getting hired, but my new employer doesn’t know about my injury. I start next week and I am hoping to schedule my surgery in the next couple of months. However, I am not sure how to have this conversation with my new employer. Do I pretend as if the injury is new? Do I tell them that my surgery is already scheduled? I will be out for 7-14 days after surgery, although I am hoping I could work from home after the first 7 days. How do I approach this conversation? Any advice would be so helpful!
Thanks so much, I love your newsletter. It has helped me see my value as an employee and has helped me stop feeling weird about taboo subjects like pay. I tell all my friends about it when they’re having work trouble or are job hunting.
Sorry to hear about your injury. This is really a decision you must make for yourself. I’ll try to give you a few things to consider.
What to tell and when
First, although you already have the injury, your surgery is not yet scheduled, and you have no idea when your doctor will be able to do it – so there is nothing firm you can tell the employer. You cannot in all honesty supply a date when you will have to interrupt your work. So, you start the job and, when the time comes, you notify your employer that you are scheduled for surgery and ask what the policy is for such a situation. You may find they are quite cooperative, especially if you volunteer to work from home while you recuperate.
I believe that as long as you accepted the job and agreed to a start date and you follow through, time off for a medical reason is not unusual – even if it’s so soon. You could start any job and get hit by a truck the next day – what then? I’m not trying to rationalize hiding information from the employer. I’m trying to emphasize that a medical matter should not play into a hiring decision, as long as you plan to do the job you were hired to do, and that includes helping minimize the impact on your new employer as reasonably as possible.
Do you have an ethical obligation to the new employer?
Second, the ethical consideration is not as clear as it may seem. I’m not sure whether this is really an ethical matter at all. I think it’s a practical one. Suppose you stayed at your old job and took the time off for surgery. That employer will have to deal with your time off. The point is, some employer will have to deal with it. Is it unethical to get surgery while at your present job? Of course not. So, why is it unethical to get surgery shortly after starting the new job?
You don’t have a choice about taking care of your health. It’s a reality that everyone that relies on you must deal with.
Now, you could give the new employer a heads-up before you accept and start the new job. I think your concern is that this may lead the employer to withdraw the job offer, right? Well, would that be ethical of the employer? If you were made a job offer because you’re qualified to do the job, how does two weeks off for a health issue matter? You’ll do the job when you’re hired, and you’ll keep doing it after you return.
I think this is really a matter of any employer – your current one or the new one – managing its employees. And that includes employees’ medical issues. It’s part of any business.
(For further perspective on a job seeker’s ethical disclosure obligations to a new employer, see Am I cheating on the company that’s interviewing me?)
Try the shoe on the other foot
Telling them in advance puts you at risk of losing a job you want. Telling them later may upset them. Either way, it will cost them work time. What’s worse in the overall scheme of things? I think the former is worse because it would deprive you of a job altogether.
Ethics are a fine thing to consider. But put the shoe on the other foot. If the new employer knows it’s going to experience a business downturn soon, that might result in layoffs, must it tell you this before you accept a job there? Perhaps – but I don’t think it ever would! This is part of any business, too.
(Here’s another good example of this “shoe on another foot”: Why do companies hide the benefits?)
Do what’s comfortable
“Telling all” in the hiring process is not necessary or prudent. I think the most important thing in a hiring transaction is to deliver what you promise – to do good work under whatever circumstances ensue. You may find the employer will take care of the cost of the time you need to take off for surgery by not paying you for that time, because you’re “on probation.” You’ll have to live with that, just as the employer must live without you for a short time.
So what’s the best course of action? Now that you have some things to think about, my advice is to do what feels right to you. I’d love to know what you decide and how this works out.
Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter. Good luck with your surgery. I wish you a speedy and complete recovery!
What does your new employer really need to know before you start your job? Is my advice ethical? What’s your advice to this reader?