Questions and Questionnaires, Part 4

Hi Brent,

Two Questions

Well, you are really asking two different questions. The first is whether you are in trouble just for hearing this information about medical issues or disabilities. The answer to that is no. People can tell you what they want to tell you. The exception to that rule is if your question was “fishing” for information. In your hypothetical, the question seemed pretty innocent.

What to Do when you Learn Sensitive Information?

The second question is what you do with the information received. If you discriminate based on that information, you could well be discriminating based on a disability. This information could also be considered genetic information under GINA. So although you may have been given the information, you must be very careful not to use it negatively. Even if you believe this is a ministerial position, the ministerial exception cases are currently hotly litigated and coming out in different ways. (How it comes out in a given case also depends a lot on your carefully crafted job description.)

The person may be opening a discussion about possible accommodations. This is tricky, because you can’t immediately jump to that conclusion and start discussing the possible disabilities. On the other hand, you don’t want to ignore it if that is what the person wants. You would have to be cautious and follow the person’s lead.

The Disability Itself Should not Be an Issue

I’m sure what you’re really wondering is whether you are going to be stuck with someone who can’t perform. Remember, you are not really concerned about whether the person has a disability. Many people with disabilities do amazing things. You are really concerned with the person’s spiritual maturity and job performance. You are completely free, even after gaining this knowledge, to ask questions of the person about these two areas and to interview the references about the same. Focus on what you legitimately need to know for your ministry—which absolutely includes the person’s religious beliefs and spiritual maturity—and leave the medical condition out of it. Even if your questioning includes how the person performs under stress, you can discuss it if that is a legitimate job qualification.

If it turns out the person has issues, such as in dealing with stress, you can raise those directly with the person. That discussion could stay on the spiritual level, or it could lead to an interactive discussion about disability accommodations, or even to a determination that it is not possible to accommodate. Courts usually look at these discussions favorably when they are taken seriously and a real effort is made to solve the problem.

More articles in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations