top of page
Search
  • Writer's picture@cv_cev

My interviews #MaskDiscrimination

Masked interviewee faced an interview panel of 4 unmasked people. All are dressed formally in suits. Interviewers look on disapprovingly.

I have recently left teaching after twelve years in the profession. This is despite consistently having some of the best results in the country and my past students regularly telling me that “You were the best teacher I ever had!”. I used to really enjoy my job!


But everything changed in 2020, though...


Bullying, ableist comments, a lack of protective measures and a sense of real disdain for me due to my mask wearing meant that I had no choice but to reevaluate my career. My 'favourite' comment was when a manager shouted in my face, “The pandemic is over, look around you.”. I wish I’d left right then, but instead I persisted for another two years.


Why?

I’m Clinically Vulnerable and I already knew what a challenge it is in the UK to be taken seriously when looking for work if you are a disabled person. The last straw for me was when students were told to come in, even when they were Covid positive, with zero mitigation measures in place.


I am fortunate to have more qualifications than the average person, all at good grades, and up until now I had consistent employment. As I am enthusiastic, articulate, well-prepared and have great answers prepared using the ‘STAR’ technique, I am good at interviews too. On paper, I am an amazing candidate and because of this, I receive multiple calls a day from agencies and schools begging me to work for them. I explain to them that I am no longer looking for teaching roles because I am immunosuppressed with three comorbidities, and I just don’t feel schools are a safe environment for me right now. The majority simply lose interest and I don’t hear from them again. This is despite the fact that the only 'reasonable adjustment' I require is that I wear a respirator mask.


However, I have had four interviews over the past week, and I now feel I should share my experience as a Clinically Vulnerable candidate wearing a mask to interviews in England:


Interview One

This was a school support role.


Three candidates, including me, had been shortlisted. Both of the other two candidates commented on my mask. There were constant comments about how hot I must be, one telling me that if she was allowed, she wouldn’t allow masks to be worn anywhere. Finally, as I left the building they made a further comment, “I can see what you actually look like now.”, as I had removed my mask in the car park.


The interview had gone really well and I know that all of my answers were great. We had completed three activities in total, between each we were taken to a seating area. The HR Manager came over to me four times to ask about my disabilities and if they would affect me doing the job. It felt like she was hoping and praying there was something they could use as an actual reason to turn down the masked candidate. I do know from the experience I have, and the answers I gave, that I should have walked away with that job. I also believe that if I had been unmasked, I would have. Everything else, aside from the mask, would have been the same: the same answers, the same experiences, and the same qualifications.


When I received a phone call later that day, I was told that although I was clearly an “Exceptional candidate”, they were "unable to offer me the role on this occasion".


Interview Two

This interview was for another school support role, and one that I was overqualified for.


This time, I didn’t meet the other candidates. The job description included a niche qualification that I hold. No more than about 100 people in the whole county do, and I suspect most of those are in employment currently, so I knew there wouldn’t be much competition.


The atmosphere was frosty from the moment I walked in. The receptionist seemed rather surprised that I was there for an interview. “You don’t need one of them in here.” she said, as she made a circle gesture around her mouth.“I know!”, I said. By the way everyone was looking at me I felt like shouldn’t be there, that I wasn’t good enough and I had no place in their world.


Now here is the kicker... they claim to be a “Disability Confident" employer, as did the first school, and they proudly display the logo on their webpage. They even asked if any adjustments need to be made at interview. Although the 'Disability Confident' scheme was introduced to “…encouraging employers to think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people.” ( https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/disability-confident-campaign) it didn’t feel like they were confident to support my disabilities. They certainly hadn't attempted to consider people's clinical risks.


The interview lasted no more than about ten minutes. Every answer I attempted was cut off mid-sentence by the interviewer, who clearly felt I was wasting their time.


I was contacted later that day to say that they were “Reassessing the job role.”. It seemed that they didn’t want the only qualified and available person, presumbly because they happened to require a mask, for the job.


Interviews Three and Four

These were actually two interview stages; the first by video conference and the second in person.


This job was in the private sector, and was work from home with occasional visits to train people on site. The job required very specific skills and experience, all of which I have strong evidence for. It was listed at a very low salary though, just above the minimum wage. I suspect most people with the experience they required: able to speak multiple languages; project management experience; teaching experience; and advanced database skills wouldn’t be interested. However, as a Clinically Vulnerable person, the option to work remotely was a key selling point along with the opportunity to apply my various skills.


It did not come surprise when I discovered that I was the only candidate. My conference interview went really well! So well, in fact, that I was told the job was basically mine and that the office interview would be a formality. I also had feedback from my agency which was equally great following the video interview. They then reiterated that the job was essentially mine for the taking.


On arrival for my face-to-face interview, very rapidly there was a change. Obviously I hadn't masked for the remote interview from my home, but wore a mask for the face-to-face interview. As soon as I entered, I was greeted by one of the managers that I recognised from my first interview, who said laughing “Take that [mask] off, you don’t need that here, we don’t do none of that around here and there’s only two of us on site today.”.


Now it only takes one person to have Covid for it to spread, and since Covid is airborne my mask is my only protection. I am extremely high risk but also I have to work. So rather than discuss my entire medical history, and since employers are only allowed to ask about disabilities in certain circumstances (https://www.gov.uk/rights-disabled-person/employment), I simply mentioned that I was immunosuppressed and sat down. When I finished the interview I felt that Iwas practically pushed out of the door.


I immediately rang my agency following the interview to explain that it was bizarre, despite how friendly everyone was on the online interview, the atmosphere was different in person and I felt like I was being encouraged to leave. Even when they said “Nice meeting you”, I sensed what was coming next.


At the end of the day I received a phone call from my agency. They told me that company had expressed dismay at me arriving in a mask, and that despite being given several opportunities to remove it, I had refused. I was then told, “They said that they cannot offer the job to someone like you as that is not the image they want for their company.”. It is a multinational company. I explained that not only would I continue masking, specifically because of my risks, I would also not wish to work for an organisation that doesn’t value equality or diversity. This is incredibly important to me, particularly as a Clinically Vulnerable person and if they were not willing to be accommodating, in all honesty they aren’t an organisation I would be happy to working for.


I am unemployed now, although it’s not through lack of want or trying that I find myself in this position.


When the UK reopened, during an ongoing pandemic, our government never considered the impact on those who remain at risk due to their health conditions. I believe that the right to use mask needs to be written into UK Employment Law; if we are being forced to protect our own health, the law must protect our right to do so.

1,611 views2 comments

2 Comments


farseer2002
Apr 03

Thank you for sharing your experience in the UK. I am saddened you are going through this. Hang in there. When you do find the right fit, it will I feel certain have been worth the difficulty.


In the US the problems are very similar, and the reactions as well.


I am fortunate in now being retired. I am unfortunate in how that happened. I have the reverse but parallel problem to yours and one that is not discussed at all. I am hyper immune reactive. The answer is the same - masking and other actions to avoid illness. In my case as in others like me, contracting certain illnesses has the strong potential to reactivate quiescent autoimmune disease or…


Like

blackfakemetalhead
Apr 01

Thank you for sharing, it’s high time we start talking about this unique type of discrimination that’s risen to prominence in the last couple of years. Coming from the US context, I’m feeling this same type of pressure to unmask in the workplace, among friends, even in healthcare settings!!! It’s incredibly disheartening, confusing, and isolating. Know that you’re not alone.

Like
bottom of page