emailing condolences to a coworker, my sister-in-law used to have the job I’m applying for, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Should I email condolences to a coworker?

This morning, our office found out via a department wide email that there was a death in an employee’s immediate family yesterday. This employee will be out of the office for a while, understandably. I am wondering if I should email my condolences to her. We aren’t friends, but I do see her in the halls regularly and we sometimes work on the same projects. Would it be odd or bothersome to email her? I wonder if not emailing would seem cold or unkind. Should I wait a week or so since this just happened yesterday? I’m not sure what I should say if I do reach out.

Is it possible to mail a note or card to her instead? I like that better than email in this situation — email is definitely better than nothing, but a note or card feels additionally thoughtful.

You could simply say something like: “I was so sorry to hear of the loss of your mom. What a terrible, terrible loss. I wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you, and you have my heartfelt condolences.”

The idea with condolence notes isn’t to find the right words — there are no right words — but simply to say that you are thinking of the person during a horrible time.

2. Mentioning that my sister-in-law used to have the job I’m applying for

My small family relocated to my partner’s medium-small hometown from a major metropolitan area about seven months ago. I have been actively applying to various full-time positions while also doing volunteer and part-time work with organizations/companies in my field. A position has recently come open at a granting organization that could be very interesting, but requires a few years less experience than I already have. I’ve known about this job for a long time, as my friend and now sister-in-law held it over 10 years ago, under a previous executive director before moving away from town (side note, to move to the major metro area with is when we first departed for graduate school).

I already have a strong application with my professional and volunteer experience but I wonder if I should mention the sister-in-law connection and my familiarity with the work through her? It is quite likely that the director and the departing holder of the position already know or will find out about the connection very quickly.

Eh. If the people there are likely to know her, you could drop her name in a “Valentina Warbleworth suggested I reach out to you” way. But you don’t want to imply that you think that knowing a bit about the work through her makes you more qualified (especially since that was more than 10 years ago).

But if she does still have contacts there, she could reach out to them to mention that you’re applying and she thinks you’d be great at the job.

3. How should I explain my part-time jobs?

I’m a recent college graduate, and am lucky enough to be working a 40-hour work week in my chosen field. However, there’s a catch– I’m working two separate part-time jobs, for two different organizations (one as a part-time employee, the other as a contractor). I’m doing more or less the same kind of work at both, but they’re on different topics– so in both I’m hired as a teapot design assistant, but in one job I focus on chocolate teapots and in the other I focus on vanilla teapots. My supervisors at both companies have said numerous times that while it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to hire me full-time due to financial constraints, they will do whatever they can to help me find a full-time job at another teapot design firm– including not having to give a long notice period if I get the perfect job that wants me to start ASAP. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with two companies I love, with supervisors I respect and admire, but I do want to find something full-time with benefits.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to follow your advice about being selective and only applying for jobs that I think I’m a good candidate for– however, I have no idea how to frame my current employment experience when talking about it to employers! I’ve only been employed at these jobs for six months– will I look like a job hopper if I’m applying to full-time jobs now, even though my current positions are part-time? Is there an appropriate way I can explain that my employers are happy for me to find something full time elsewhere, without making it sound like I am not a necessary part of my current offices ( I know that they will have to bring someone on when I leave)? I know that I do very good work (and have had my contracts extended multiple times because of this), and want to make that the focus for employers, not the unconventional work set-up now. I really would like to avoid the job hopper label, due to personal circumstances that will likely demand that I work at a future job for a shorter amount of time than recommended at some point or another.

Just explain to employers that both jobs are part-time and each employer knows that you’re searching for full-time work. Having to cobble together part-time jobs to make full-time hours is a perfectly understandable reason for moving on after a short period.

It would be different if this were one full-time job; that would raise the question of why you’re already looking to move on after only six months. But in your current situation, it makes perfect sense.

4. Must I disclose my disability when applying for jobs?

I had brain surgery in November 2014 to correct a cavernous malformation and developed a seizure disorder as a consequence of the healing process. I’m working with my neurologist to get my seizures controlled with medication, but as a result, every time I have a seizure, I lose my driver’s license for six months.

While I’ve started my own home-based editing business, I’m still filling out the occasional job application for editing work. I’m struggling with applications that ask if the applicant has a disability — because technically, a seizure disorder counts as a disability that needs accommodation under the ADA. However, it’s one of those “hidden” disabilities, like mental health issues, and it isn’t readily apparent by looking at me (unless you notice the medical bracelet).

Must I disclose this disability when I apply for jobs, or even in the interview process? If I shouldn’t disclose it when I apply, when is the right time to disclose such a disability that would need accommodation?

As a note, the kind of accommodation that I would need would be something like time to recover if I were to have a seizure at work, and possibly an altered schedule to align with bus routes (in case I lose my driver’s license again). My seizures are not frequent and are accompanied by an aura, so I am able to get myself to a safe place to make sure I’m not injured if they happen while I’m at a workplace.

No, you’re not required to disclose it at any point during the hiring process. If you want to ask about accommodation once you have a job offer, you of course can — but you’re not required to.

They’re asking because companies with more than 100 employees and companies with government contracts over a certain dollar amount are required by law to report the demographic makeup of their applicants and employees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (in aggregate, not individually). Also, if you’re applying for work as a federal contractor or subcontractor, it’s to help them meet a target of a 7% workforce of employees with disabilities.

However, answering is voluntary, and you can’t be penalized for not answering. In fact, the law requires that disclosure be voluntary, that refusal to provide it will not subject the applicant to any adverse treatment, and that the information be kept on a form that is kept separate from the application.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: A card would be nice, but I think an email would be fine too. 2 years ago, I was in Sweden to do some software testing. While there, my brother passed away unexpectedly and I had to return home immediately.

    When I returned to the office, I had a few emails from some co-workers expressing their condolences. Like with the OP, they weren’t really friends, but colleagues I was friendly with — we’d worked together on a few things, said hello when we passed in he halls, and so on. I really appreciated that they took a few minutes to send me an email.

    1. Alanna*

      Agreed that email is fine. When I lost my dad, I got far more condolence emails than cards, and I treasured every one of them.

      1. Graciosa*

        Yes, an email is better than nothing.

        However, I noticed in my career that these types of things happen more often than anyone would wish, so I started keeping a small supply of cards and stationery in the office. The issue for me in the card or email debate was that I didn’t have easy access to quality materials for a handwritten note, so I found a way to ensure I would have what I needed for a more personal message.

        On the more positive side, I have also used these for expressing appreciation. It is so uncommon today to get a handwritten note on nice paper that this simple gesture has an effect that is wildly disproportionate to the effort it takes.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. Such a note (even an email but a note is best) congratulating people on their little triumphs wins incredible amounts of good will. I first noticed this when someone I considered a dunderhead and an adversary in the workplace sent me a note when I won a national awared. I forever had positive feelings towards her as a result and let that guide my own behavior.

  2. anooooooon*

    #1: I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t think it’s cold or unkind not to offer condolences, especially if you don’t regularly talk to her. But if you do want to, I agree with Alison that a note seems better than an email.

    Also, a bit off topic, but I always wonder if department wide notices like that are okay’d by the person on leave. I know there was a situation in my current company and similar ones in previous companies where people wanted to keep a death in the family private and their manager or coworker went ahead and told people anyway. Not everyone wants the entire department or office to know about a tragedy.

    1. MK*

      Do you mean the managers were told the employees would prefer that the death wasn’t announced, but did so anyway? Or simply that they didn’t as permission first? Because death announcements are pretty much the norm, you should mention it explicitly if you don’t want it known.

      1. anooooooon*

        Employees said they didn’t want the death announced, and it was anyway. It’s happened quite a few times and I think it’s because people want to explain why someone might be away or let them offer condolences if they want, but I personally think it’s a bit rude of the employee said they didn’t want many people to know.

        I think it’s just that some people don’t want the attention from people they don’t know well in situations like these and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    2. KR*

      When my mom died I was 13 and in middle school. The school took it upon themselves to put out a school-wide notice saying what had happened and to offer counseling services to students in need. I was NOT happy about that. Not only was I not a hugely popular person and unlikely to have a lot of friends that knew my mother or me, but I’m not a person who likes a lot of attention and I value my privacy. I knew they were doing it in good faith, but I wish they had checked with me first.

      1. Artemesia*

        I find it sort of creepy that counseling services are offered to people not at all affected by a tragedy. I remember hearing of a student who asks for a later exam because his friend’s mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember thinking ‘If I ever have a personal catastrophe like this I would be totally offended if some sniveling little snot who hardly knows me tried to use it as an excuse to not turn in his college work.’ This announcement was insensitive to this girl and condescending. A teacher speaking with her home room class — maybe — but the school wide announcement with the addition of grief counseling (yech) was awful.

        1. Sue Wilson*

          I mean, there are definitely tragedies where secondary trauma is a worry, and I think schools don’t want to be liable for any more tragedies which are a consequence of the first, but I definitely think sometimes it’s more CYA than true compassion. And I think unless you know the relationship of that student to that mother wasn’t close, then I wouldn’t judge whether it was a act to get out of school. If my mother died, it would absolutely make sense for someone of my friends to want time to grieve.

        2. Rae*

          Given the turbulance in many homes today, I know that there were many of my brother’s friends who were seriously shaken my my grandmother’s bout with cancer since she was often the one (along with my mom) that greeted them from the school bus, listened to their woes and helped them with their homework.

          Not only that but sometimes people never fully coped with their own tragedies. My uncle died of pancreatic cancer when my cousins were adults, but even years later a sudden pancreatic cancer death can send my cousin into somewhat of a downward spiral. It dosn’t matter if its another person’s parent or a celebrity or whatnot. It makes her very angry and she feels all the hopelessness of the situation again. She’s better about it now, but she still does get out of sorts. Many times for those still in school one person’s tragedy can enable others to get the real help they need…even if the personal catastrophe at hand belongs to someone else

          1. Anon For This*

            Yep. I didn’t have time to be a hot mess when my dad died, but when my friend’s dad died last year, it did a number on me. I’d been part of their family since I was 12, so it hit far too close to home.

        3. Wait, what*

          “Sniveling little snot?” Really? I guess I don’t understand this site’s commenting policies, because that’s really rude and judgmental and I’m surprised that’s an ok thing to say here. Chosen family is a thing. Did you know anything about this student’s relationship with his friend’s family?

    3. Anonymous for This*

      I once attended a funeral for a close relative of a good friend, and the minister shared the fact that the death was the result of suicide as part of the service.

      The family had not shared this information, and it was both a shocking discovery and a shocking way to find out.

      I realize that there are advocates for sharing this information more widely to remove the stigma of mental illness, but I believe the family’s choice trumps any other considerations at such a time. It was horrible for them to hear that during the service and realize that everyone would now be asking about it on one of the worst days of their lives.

      Not that the minister shared it for that reason – he was just utterly oblivious to any type of social cues and rather forgetful. He cured me of any belief that a life of service comes with any form of sensitivity.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Oh, that’s awful. And it’s a good reminder that talking about how a person died can be painful for the family.

      2. Bambina*

        Wow–” oblivious to social cues ” is an understatement to describe the minister-IMHO- that poor family- I agree with you that the family’s choice of disclosure trumps anything else at such a tragic time

      3. Misty*

        I’ve heard ministers harangue the funeral attendees about how they can CALL themselves a Christian, but if they don’t have a church home that they tithe to, they’re not really. And once, near the end of a four-and-a-half-hour Baptist funeral (lady had five sons, and ALL of them were preachers), the very elderly minister forgot that it was a funeral and not a Sunday service and started passing the collection baskets.
        What I hate is when the deceased wasn’t religious, no one in the family is very churchy, and they ask me to find a minister to conduct the service. Most of them are fine, but a few of them start in on the damnation and hellfire, and they all turn it into a 40-minute Why You Need Jesus In Your Life seminar with maybe two sentences about the deceased’s life. Bah.

    4. Connie-Lynne*

      As a manager, I always ask if it’s OK to tell people why someone is out. Otherwise I just say “Izzy had an emergency and will be out for a few days.”

    5. Doriana Gray*

      I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t think it’s cold or unkind not to offer condolences, especially if you don’t regularly talk to her.

      I’m right there with you. Maybe it’s because I’m bringing my own stuff into it, but I’m a highly private person at work (most people know nothing personal about me). If I lost a loved one, I’d ask my supervisor to not tell anyone why I was out. A division wide announcement would make me so uncomfortable.

      Last year, my previous division saw a lot of people’s family members dying at a pretty alarming rate – most of us didn’t comment on it. Our division was so large, and sometimes so siloed, that we wouldn’t really know most of the people who were out on bereavement leave. The one person I knew who lost her niece and then her father a month or so a part, I didn’t email or send a card. I just waited until she came back to work both times, expressed my condolences, and just listened as she told me funny stories about them.

    6. OP #1*

      For what it’s worth, in my department (about 60 people (multiple thousands of employees in the company), personal announcements are never made without the permission of the employee(s) affected.

  3. Jack the treacle eater*

    #1, I think you are worrying too much. If you feel you should offer condolences enough to ask this question, just do it.

  4. Clix*

    #4 – I have a very similar problem with an unseen illness that effects travel, and is unpredictable. It is so hard to figure out about disclosing. The two times I’ve changed companies I haven’t discussed anything until I’ve filled out paperwork. Any job I applied for and did respond affirmatively to disability I was never called. It’s probably paranoia on my part but it makes job searching so much more stressful – I feel like I’m carrying a deep, dark, secret that would (even if it does nothing to my work – which it has had zero impact on the place I started a year ago) cause me not to be hired even though you “can’t” discriminate. Wishing you the best of luck and recovery as well.

    1. Onomatopoeia*

      You bring up an interesting point: since companies “can’t legally discriminate” against people with disabilities, what is the reason behind them asking whether or not you have a disability, except to meet the demographics stats that Alison mentioned? And how helpful is it really to ask about it in the application stage, rather than later, to make sure it doesn’t create a bias from the employer, a subconscious one, or worse – a well thought out one

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        They ask in the application stage so statistics can be compared between applicants and people hired. For example, if 35% of applicants are people of color but only 15% of people hired are people of color, that’s a potential bias in hiring. If 15% of applicants and 15% of people hired are POC, but the demographics of the area are a higher percentage of POC, then maybe the company needs to start recruiting or advertising jobs differently to attract a more representative pool.

        1. Artemesia*

          I would never disclose on the application; they will quite obviously screen people out with disabilities who do this.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            For what it’s worth, they’re required by law to keep that info separate from the rest of the application and use it in aggregate. Doesn’t mean there aren’t unscrupulous employers who don’t, but it would be pretty unusual just given the way application systems are designed to separate it.

            1. Clix*

              This is good to know – do they say this somewhere in the disclosure? I’ve never seen my disability as anything but a liability that if anyone knew they would never hire me.

          2. Graciosa*

            Actually, I have had candidates mention it specifically to me (as a hiring manager) during the application process because they think it will be a benefit to them. I work for a very large company that does a lot of government business, so they are probably not wrong that the company appreciates being able to show that we are a good employer for all sorts of disadvantaged groups. We absolutely are.

            They are, however, wrong in thinking that I view it as a benefit – I’m not going to bypass hiring a better candidate just to be able to add to our metric.

            But it’s certainly not a negative at my employer.

            1. Clix*

              I found it interesting to read about the 15% stuff… I know that helps to see if discrimination is occurring I guess but I’d hope I wouldn’t get hired to meet a quota. Such a fine line in hiring it sounds like.

              1. Blurgle*

                I hope the fear on their end is more that someone isn’t hiring you due to unconscious bias despite you being the best candidate.

    2. Mookie*

      I’m having a painful flashback to an interview where, in an effort not to look squirrel-y when the hiring manager unexpectedly pressed me about medication-related weight gain (we were acquaintances prior to my applying, and she literally asked me why I’d “got[ten] so fat recently” and wouldn’t take polite murmurings for an answer), I admitted that I was on a limited course of anticonvulsants following head trauma. The position didn’t have any driving duties or associated travel and the office was within walking distance of my home, but she immediately ended the interview, saying her insurance wouldn’t allow her to hire me or some such. I politely suggested that for her own good she never tell an applicant anything like that again. Bullet dodged, obviously, but what a crappy, helpless feeling that was.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Her insurance wouldn’t allow her to hire you? What the hell?

        At least she admitted it. It’ll make things so much easier when she finally runs into a more litigious candidate.

      2. Sunshine Brite*

        Wow, I’m sorry that happened to you, but at least you found out about her level of tact and boundaries.

      3. Clix*

        I’m so sorry. How awful. I’ve been on anticonvulsants before and gone through weightloss and gain. I can’t believe she said that – even if, as I pessimistically assume happens a lot – she did have a bias.

      4. Bambina*

        How horrible for you & what an inappropriate, ill mannered and boorish thing for someone to ask anyone at anytime ! Just be elated you did not get the job

      5. Middle Name Jane*

        What a disgusting human being that woman is to have made a reference to your weight. Doesn’t matter if she knew you before or not. That is not relevant to the interview. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

    3. Snowglobe*

      If you are answering the question in an online system, chances are that the application will automatically remove that information when your application is forwarded to a recruiter or hiring manager. As AAM says, the law requires that the information not be used in hiring decisions, and therefore every automated system that I know of just pulls that information out into a separate database. In the old days with paper applications, the demographic data was often on a perforated section of the application so it could be pulled off once the application was turned in.

      1. Artemesia*

        I would have zero confidence in the confidentiality of this information; the response of the person to the woman taking anti-convulsants above is what I believe would happen most of the time. Most hiring managers have now learned not to SAY discriminatory things; they are still likely to discriminate.

        1. AnotherFed*

          That’s pretty harsh! Especially since the only way a hiring manager gets any disability information is if the candidate tells them – anywhere with an application system strips out the demographics before it gets to hiring managers.

        2. Clix*

          I agree, sadly, that there still is unconscious discrimination when people know and I have felt this way even before my own disability. I work in an area that makes marketable or widespread materials and I’ve never looked at ads the same since – requirements for certain types of people to appear even if I know I am bit racist or sizist or consider myself discriminatory it’s all on the front of my mind every day at work because I have to be mindful of impressions even if other stock photos more match my overall message. It’s so awkward.

      2. JayemGriffin*

        I can say this is the case for my employer; the online system removes the demographic data, strips off any identifying information, and dumps it into an entirely separate program that only people from central HR and a few IT folks can access, not hiring managers.

  5. Turanga Leela*

    OP #1: It’s really nice to send a card. Don’t get too hung up on what to say—sending it is what’s most important. Alison’s wording is good. You can send it immediately; there’s no such thing as expressing your sympathy too soon.

    In addition, if you are looking for other ways to express condolences, you and some other people from work could send a small floral arrangement to the funeral (or make a small charitable donation, if that’s what the family has asked for). This is not required at all, but it’s also totally normal to do. Florists do this all the time, and they’ll be able to suggest an arrangement in your price range. If you’re worried that the family won’t know who you are, you sign the card something like, “Thinking of the Smith family at this difficult time—Hermione, Ron, and Harry from Chocolate Teapots Inc.”

    I’d be a little more likely to send flowers if the death was particularly tragic (like someone who died young). In general, though, sending a sympathy card is more than enough. It’s a kind thing to do, and your coworker will remember that you did it.

  6. Tommy*

    OP #1, I think you might be reluctant because you think it would seem forward to talk about something so personal with someone you hardly know.

    In my own experience with death, social graces definitely took a back seat to what I was going through. I would probably have noticed if no one in my company said anything, but that’s about it.

    I remember walking through the grocery store at night and thinking that in the scheme of things none of what the people around me thought of me really mattered that much, so for the first time in a long time I was completely myself, my lost and confused and strange self.

    Don’t worry, you’re not under a microscope. In the middle of a hurricane, no one cares what you’re wearing. (I don’t mean that in a flippant way, I just mean that what you might think is inappropriate in ordinary circumstances is pretty much irrelevant in extraordinary ones.)

  7. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – A card is probably fine. Better yet, ask if the company is planning to send anything and you can send note with that.

    And to add to what Alison said – there aren’t right words, but there are definitely wrong ones. You can do a quick search but I’d avoid anything like “there’s a reason for everything” or “she’s in a better place” because they’re just awful things to say.

    1. Artemesia*

      I think a card (as compared to a personal note) is less charming and less considerate than a personal email. Best is a short handwritten note on a blank card or letter paper — worst is a condolence card with a pre-canned message and a signature. The email is somewhere in between the two.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh gosh, yes, I should have been clearer — when I say “a card or note,” I’m definitely not talking pre-printed cards with just your signature. I’m talking about a card where you write a personal message on the inside (I hate pre-printed cards with a fiery passion and didn’t mean to sound like I was recommending those). Either way, it’s a personal note; it’s just a matter of whether the stationery you’re using looks like a paper or a card.

        1. Dan*

          It’s interesting. Some people are the exact opposite. Remember the poster who complained that bf forgot “the card” and was upset when bf said they’ll get one when they feel like it? I know people like that.

          In this situation, I’m fine with email. It’s the sentiment that matters.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Agreed re: it’s the sentiment that matters. I just think a note that you send through the mail conveys extra thought.

            And yes re: the card people. Definitely different preferences. And really, no rationale person is going to be offended by the medium you use to express condolences. I just want to push people toward the more personal (their own words) where they’re willing.

            I have a long rant about pre-printed cards brewing inside of me for some boring day.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              “I have a long rant about pre-printed cards brewing inside of me for some boring day.”

              Ha. We can take it to the open thread because I’m so with you on that!

            2. Dan*

              Side note: I once had a phone interview with one of hallmark’s competitors. They wanted someone with an MS in statistics to analyze how the different types of cards and sayings sold. I had no idea there was a science to that. I didn’t make it past the phone stage.

              1. AnotherFed*

                That’s got to be absolutely fascinating… I bet there’s all sorts of interesting correlations between popularity of different sayings and different locations/populations!

        2. Artemesia*

          I figured you did but just clarified because I have known a fair number of people who think they are appropriate or even that they ‘should’t’ write a note on the card. It is fairly common for such cards to be passed in the workplace for just signatures as well.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            The supermarket next door but one to my office has a card section and I find the “With Sympathy” cards tend to be blank on the inside. Some have a poem or bible verse on the front but mostly they tend to be quite plain.

  8. ActualName*


    I’ve been going through the same thing. I’ve been disabled all my life and my disabilities well not heal so even though I’m likely longer than you are, if you have any questions about navigating the world with this new identity well… ask. I’m here for you? I guess.

    From your letter it mostly sounds like you are having a hard time coming to terms with the idea of being disabled, which is completely normal. I went through several stages of this already. And don’t worry about filling out this paper work “wrong” and messing up the statistics. It’s not at all a big deal.

    1. Florida*

      OP, I have epilepsy and have had to request accommodations similar to yours. I’ve never encountered any resistance.
      On applications, it depends on my mood. Sometimes I say yes. Sometimes I say no response. Typically I do not bring it up in the interview. I wait until after I have the job.

    2. Mookie*

      Thank you for the kind words above. It’s lovely of you to offer what you have to LW4; I hope, if she needs it, she takes you up on it.

  9. Melissa*

    #1 I am a teacher and when my grandmother passed away, I got an email from the parent of a kid that wasn’t in my class. It is a small school and she noticed I had been gone, so she asked my boss. It was a quick note, just a sorry for your loss from her and her kid… But it was nice that she took the time no matter how the condolences were sent.

  10. OP #4*

    Thank you for your kind words, everyone. (Alas, I’m going to be out today, so I won’t be able to reply to comments nearly as quickly as I normally would, but I will do my best to keep up.)

    ActualName is correct: I’m definitely struggling with this new identity of “I have a disability.” I’m a high achiever in a family of high achievers who have little sympathy or tolerance for perceived “failings.” I have two English degrees and hold an executive-level volunteer position with my regional embroiderer’s group. Heck, I started my own business, which is going pretty all right at the moment.

    But at the same time, I can’t drive my own self to the grocery store and have to remember to count out my pills every day. Some days I just can’t function because my brain is too tired. I waffle between feeling bad because I should be able to do more, professionally, and feeling bad because sometimes, I just can’t.

    1. ActualName*

      I completely understand that. I am so hard on myself. Yesterday I cleaned my room, wrote a final paper for my class, took care of some other homework, went to a meeting, and did a great job of taking care of my dog. But at the end of the day I was berating myself for not doing enough because I took to many breaks and my breaks were too long and I didn’t go to the grocery store or finish enough homework and so on.

      It’s all about adjusting your standers for yourself but that’s so hard. I have so much support from my family but I still can’t always give myself permission to take the breaks I need and deserve.

      It’s just so hard. And of course able people not understanding makes it so lonely.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        My dad went through this – it’s the hardest thing imaginable! He had to relearn to do everything – from speaking to tying his shoes, etc. And then the anti-seizure medication he was on also really wore him out. It took about 5 years until he was back mostly to where he started.

        Is there a support group at the hospital you could get involved in? Hopefully you also have a therapist you’re working with – these are huge changes and it’s all so hard!

    2. TL -*

      My mom had a traumatic head injury and it took her years to recover. She had seizures and got super tired easily, and her memory wasn’t as good, though all symptoms improved steadily over time.

      Don’t feel bad about how much you’re doing – recovering from a brain trauma is very hard work. Just remember, your brain’s doing a lot more work behind the scenes than most people’s and will be for a while. So you’re not just running a business – you’re running a business and healing and managing seizures. That’s quite a lot to take on.

      (Also, I’m sorry – I know how hard it was for my mom to go through this.)

    3. Brendan*

      I can’t speak to a TBI but my sister went through a complete psychological breakdown. It was so strange and out of the blue (to us/her) because there is no family history and nobody knew what the signs were.

      It took her almost 18 months to be “normal” again- she doesn’t remember anything about the week before and several weeks after the event. And for months after she was in this foggy haze where she couldn’t remember things, couldn’t do simple tasks etc.

      This is a woman who was in the middle of a graduate program, had been a solid student/employee/volunteer all her life- and BAM she was locked in a psych ward for two weeks then couldn’t put her socks on for weeks after. It was surreal.

      So all that to say- it takes time, especially if there is new medication/dosages to work through, but these things get better. Best of luck!

    4. Not my real name*

      I totally, totally get it. I am also a high achiever from a family of high achievers but have always struggled with organization and general anxiety and depression that made me feel like a failure – I’ve also never been able to work well within any kind of large or bureaucratic organization (hence I am a consultant, albeit a fairly successful one). I was just diagnosed with quite bad ADHD in my mid 30s and am on meds for it; they are great and they help, but they aren’t perfect. It is frustrating and dispiriting to know that this is something that I’ll always have to deal with – and that people will probably always discriminate against me for, even if subconsciously. It’s not my fault, it’s a brain wiring disorder, but it sucks a lot. I hate being limited by things outside of my control, and it’s particularly hard to deal with in a culture that believes that EVERYTHING is in your control if you just work hard enough/think positively/etc.

      1. Middle Name Jane*

        Please don’t beat yourself up. You do the best you can and don’t worry what others think of you. Much easier said than done, I know. I struggle with it myself.

    5. Mimmy*

      The disclosure thing is definitely a bane of my existence! Technically, under the ADA, you don’t have to disclose until you have an offer, at which point you can discuss accommodations as part of negotiating the specifics of employment. But I often feel I have to disclose at least my vision impairment: one time I didn’t, and a major component of the particular job was driving, and the interview was over in two minutes. So now I ask prior to accepting an interview.

      I truly understand how you feel. I can’t drive for different reasons (vision impairment) and my brain is wired differently as well. My family is also high achieving – they’ve all been very supportive, but I get a sense that some of them wish I could just get it together already. I too sometimes feel like I *could* do more professionally, but I have to accept that I have my limits.

      My disabilities are lifelong, but I used to be an Information & Resources Specialist for people who had brain injuries, both traumatic and acquired, and it is an adjustment. One thing my callers found helpful was having support from others – see if there’s a support group in your area.

      Try to cut yourself some slack and give yourself a hug once in a while :)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Just to clarify, you don’t have to disclose once you have an offer either, if you don’t feel like it. If you want to discuss accommodations at that point, it makes sense to, but sometimes I hear from people who think they’re required by law to disclose and I want to make sure people know that they’re not!

        1. lfryer*

          So I have a question about this: if an employee has a condition that she doesn’t disclose (or request accommodations for) but the condition occasionally interferes with her work, would her employer be in legal trouble if they fired her because of those times when it interfered with her work?

          Myself and a friend have had somewhat dodgy firings in similar circumstances related to this kind of thing and in both cases, the employer seemed like they were afraid they were going to be in hot water once we disclosed our respective conditions. I’ve wondered ever since if it was a legitimate concern, and if we had both told our employers, or asked for accommodations, they would have had a harder time firing us for those reasons. I assume that because employment was at-will, it doesn’t matter, but I don’t know how ADA might interact with the situation.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for known disabilities. If the employer doesn’t know an employee has a disability (either because the employee specifically disclosed it or because it’s obvious without disclosure), then there’s no legal obligation to accommodate and no protection.

            1. lfryer*

              That makes sense – although the employers got nervous, they were not actually in legal danger. And perhaps both my friend and I should have mentioned our conditions, although in both our cases the firing surprised us (in her case, it happened two weeks in and after receiving glowing feedback the whole time she was there).


    6. eplawyer*

      Executive level position with your embroider’s group is awesome.

      Good luck in the future.

    7. Murphy*

      Oh man I feel you. No brain injury, but a serious car accident that has resulted in some permanent mobility issues and I waffle between “too hard, can’t” and “prove I can still do it all.”

      It’s taken me six years to find the middle ground and even then I still cry and grieve whenever I think about the stuff I will never be able to do with my daughter now (teach her to ski or skate or most anything physical). Don’t be too hard on yourself.

      My condolences.

  11. Tau*

    #4 – as a word of warning: even if the law requires that any disability information you disclose is kept separately and not disclosed to the hiring manager, I’d be very careful about assuming that that’s actually what happens in practice. I have one disability I wanted to disclose during interview or phone interview, not application, and one I didn’t want to disclose at all, and I ran into any number of things that seemed pretty… dubiously legal… to me re: disability disclosure. This was in the UK, admittedly, not the US, and I’m not 100% clear about the legal status of these things, but I’m talking online applications that outright stated any information I entered would be forwarded to the hiring manager as well as ones that would not let me proceed until I’d ticked either “yes” or “no” to “do you have a disability?” My new job actually forced me to lie to them on day 1 when they asked me to fill in a form listing all my disabilities. Illegal? Maybe, but knowing that doesn’t actually help you that much in the situation.

    1. Mimmy*

      I was actually about to ask about the same thing. (I’m in the U.S.)

      I don’t know anything about ATS programs and if the employer has to set those parameters themselves or if the demographics are automatically separated from the application by design.

    2. Kora*

      Legally, UK companies are only allowed to require you to provide information about disabilities if it’s directly related to the job (eg. if there’s a minimum amount you have to be able to lift, you’d be required to disclose a disability that might stop you from doing that, but they can’t use the same form to ask about, say, mental health conditions). This is covered by the 2010 Equality Act. If they’re asking for this information in an equal opportunities form you’re not required to fill it out, and it’s illegal for them to give that information to the hiring manager; I think this one falls under the Data Protection Act but I’m not 100% on that. Of course, in practice lots of companies flout the law on this :-/

      1. Aella*

        I just applied for a position with a charity where the equal opportunities form was in with the rest of the application form. I felt oogy about that. I feel even more oogy about it now.

  12. Not So NewReader*

    OP, send a card if you can get her address or maybe leave a card in her mailbox at work (not sure about that one… go with your gut). If you think there is a slight chance she might not remember your name then put where she knows you from under your signature: “Barb Smith- accounting department at work.”

    I have gotten cards and been unable to figure out how I know the person. I felt bad about it. Some people put where they knew me from under their signature, such as “from church” or “from volunteer group”. I thought it was a sweet gesture for people to not just assume I would remember where I knew them from.

    1. Alma*

      I have also gotten a card, put the person’s name on the envelope, and asked HR or the alternate keeper of secrets such as employee home addresses to fill in the bereaved’s home address for me.

    2. Include where you work or something*

      OMG! Yes! In my position I work with EVERYONE in the company – and when I get handwritten notes signed with just their first name I have NO idea who they are.

      A note signed “Jane” leaves me wondering “Jane who?”

      Also, OP, I’ll chime in with that a card is nice; but, I’d be okay with email. I do think that if you are thinking about saying something; then say something. Don’t fret over it.

      I did actually send a card (snail mail) to a co-worker a couple of years back when she broke her leg (Like Alma, I gave it to her manager, who put on the home address and mailed it out from the office). I knew she wouldn’t be back for a while and wanted to wish her well. We did not work in the same department; but, as I said, I work with EVERYONE and wanted to wish her well.

      Although AAM I did use a pre-printed card; but, with a short note I wrote. Something stupid: “what? Are you going into acting – “break a leg” Get it? Yea, I know “lame” joke.” When she came back to work she came looking for me because she was so thrilled that someone actually took the time to send a card!

  13. Bambina*

    Send an email or a card. It will mean so much to the person and if you don’t know them well, it shows what a kind and mannered person you are. I sent a card to a neighbor that I did not know at all well,who lost her Mother- it changed our relationship overnight in a positive way. A small act of kindness in a sad time is always remembered. And IMO never wrong.

  14. Celine*

    I lost my dad when I was 32, and I so appreciated the emails I received from my co-workers expressing their condolences. Prior to my dad’s death I would have put myself in the “I’m private at work” camp, but I found receiving those messages to be such a kind gesture in a very difficult time.

  15. ScarletInTheLibrary*

    1: Really it’s more about being genuine and not the medium. Personally I don’t like cards in part because a few people in my office are obsessed with the things and force people to sign. The message ends up being generic. Cards can be done right, but a lot of people miss the mark because they felt they had to send a card. Some of the most heartfelt congrats, etc. I have received have been sent through email.

  16. Alienor*

    #1, I think an email is fine. I’ve lost both a spouse and a parent while working at my current job, and both times I appreciated every kind word I got, whether it came as an email or a handwritten note. FWIW, having been through this a couple of times, when I’m sending condolences to other people I try to stay away from the major platitudes (“everything happens for a reason…”) and just stick to something simple like “I was very sorry to hear about your loss, and I’ll be thinking of you and your family.”

  17. Snazzy Hat*

    Admitting I have a disability has become much easier since applications have included that disclosure with the list of “disabilities include but are not limited to”, but sadly it has yet to give me the courage to go to the Social Security office and request assistance. (My high anxiety tends to create worst-case scenarios in my head.)

  18. Coffee & Cocoa*

    #1 — Either an email or a note is fine; the important part is that if you want to reach out, do so. A simple “I’m sorry for your loss; my thoughts are with you” really means a lot to someone who is grieving. When one of my parents passed away a couple of years ago, I really appreciated the emails that I received from colleagues. After I came back to work, I found notes from several people on my desk; others insisted on stopping me in the hallway and giving me verbal condolences right then & there. It made me start crying every time, and I didn’t want to cry at work. I know that everyone was acting sincerely, but I much preferred the emails. I could read those when I was comfortable doing so, at home, where crying didn’t matter.

    #4 — I would disclose after you have a job offer in hand, and only then if you will need accomodations right away; if you might not need accomodations, wait to disclose. Years ago, I knew two people who were fired from their jobs for having seizure disorders. Granted, this was pre-ADA, but the same prejudices still seem to be around.

  19. Jan*

    The EEOC’s website says “The law allows an employer to condition a job offer on the applicant answering certain medical questions or successfully passing a medical exam, but only if all new employees in the same job have to answer the questions or take the exam. The law also requires that the employers keep all medical records and information confidential and in separate medical files.” I’m quite certain a job offer would be rescinded if one refused to cooperate with the medical questions or exam.

  20. Middle Name Jane*

    #4–I have a condition specifically mentioned as being covered under the ADA, but it’s not something you could tell just by looking at me and it’s not something that requires I wear any medical jewelry. As a matter of principle, I choose not to disclose my disability when I apply for jobs, just as I choose not to disclose my race/ethnicity. Call me paranoid, but I don’t trust that the information stays separate and I don’t trust employers not to use the information against me.

  21. Kay*

    #4 – I have a condition listed on those lists of disabilities you sometimes see on application forms, and I’m currently applying to jobs. I used to avoid answering the questions about disability, race/ethnicity, or gender, but this time around I’m making a point to answer all of them. I think they’re asking for a good reason (to aim for aggregate diversity in recruitment and hiring) and I want to help their efforts by giving them the info they need to do that. I trust that they are honest about not using the info in hiring decisions, but honestly, even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t want to work for a place that would refuse to hire someone with a disability.

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